Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin

I have been immersing myself in theater lately: auditing a Bowdoin class on Shakespeare, renting Shakespeare movies, watching the high school rehearse Much Ado About Nothing and reading books on acting.

The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin is a fictional memoir of an actor in the 1970s. Curtains open on a group of struggling young actors, who have escaped the heat of lower Manhattan to hang out at a beach house.

Our hero is a narcissistic actor, Edward Day, who owes his life to his doppelganger, Guy Margate. Literally owes his life. Edward almost drowned.

Guy expects something in return for his heroic rescue. His demands escalate. The stakes get raised whenever Madeleine Delavergne enters the picture. She’s a beautiful and talented actress but tainted by neurosis. Madeleine is attracted to both Edward and Guy, two handsome actors who resemble one another. They form a love triangle with a sharp apex.

Edward Day is a story about envy, jealousy and creative genius. It centers on the gap between artistic perfection and real life. Valerie Martin explored these subjects before in her brilliant short story collection, The Unfinished Novel. Now she turns her lens from authors and artists to focus on actors. Martin writes beautifully about the ugliness of human nature.

Despite the heavy psychological underpinnings, Edward Day moves at a good pace and is entertaining. Martin’s extensive research (down to high set costs vs. low actor wages) makes the off-off Broadway scene come to life. Being 20-something in 70’s NYC was good fun despite the hardships.

Fans of theater will appreciate the way Martin weaves the plays into the narrative. The actor-characters quote Shakespeare and discuss method acting. The themes of the plays echo in the characters’ lives offstage.

Sometimes the theater-narrative connection is overplayed. There is an obvious connection between Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and our characters. Martin describes those links scene by scene to the point of interrupting the narrative flow. Trust the reader.

Still, I very much enjoyed The Confessions of Edward Day. If you haven’t sampled Valerie Martin yet, you are in for a treat:
“These lines drop from her lips without intonation, like a bag of chips falling into a vending machine when the correct code has been punched.”

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@Barrie Summy

Blog Watch: Barrie sent me 2 useful links that explain how the new Federal and Trade Commission (FTC) rules effective December 1, 2009 apply to bloggers who accept free products (like ARCs and books) and endorse them:
For an example, see MY BOOK REVIEW POLICY in my sidebar.  My disclosure policy has actually been there since last May when I blogged about Blog Ethics.

Here are some NYT articles on it:


tina said...

The ocean is looking so good. I'll check out those new rules.

Keri Mikulski said...

Great pics and review. :) Thanks for sharing. :)

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Thanks for another great book review. Will you be taking any more classes in Shakespeare?

Enjoyed the pictures!

Tracy :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have always liked Valerie Martin's books.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, it’s been warm (ie 50s) and sunny lately. I figured if I can sit through a soccer game, I could also read by the water. It just takes layers. The bright orange chair is also probably a good idea at this time of year!

Keri, thanks! I really enjoyed the review/author interview on your blog.

Tracy, I might sit in on an occasional lecture again, but it’s disruptive to my writing to audit a class. It worked to do this in between projects, during the back and forth time with my agent over the manuscript. I usually do my research on my own, including talking to experts. In this case I wanted to see how Shakespeare was taught and how teens respond, although my YA books don’t take an academic approach to the material. More knowledge is always a good idea too.

Patti, another Martin fan – terrific! Interesting YA book review on your blog too.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

I'll certainly check out Martin's books - thanks for the review. Thank you, as well, for the links.

Beautiful shots of the water!!

Elizabeth said...

Loved the photo of the exquisited reading spot by the water.
The quote you chose was deliciously droll and exact.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bonnie, given what I know of you from your blog, I think you’d relate to Martin’s writing.

Elizabeth, it’s just a couple of miles from my house. I tend to bike there and pause, but that day was so glorious that I drove back to sit and read. You have to get the tide right too otherwise it’s mudflats. Martin can be really funny.

kayerj said...

I liked your review. It sounds like an interesting view of an actors life. I found your information about disclosures interesting. I'm still trying to decide if I need one. I don't review for any publishing companies, just for my own pleasure. If you want to read my review of the Blue Star by Tony Earley it’s here.

Sarah Laurence said...

Kaye, I don’t believe the FTC intends to crack down on recreational book bloggers, but the line is fuzzy. I don’t have a vested interest in the books I review, but what if I review an ARC and then that publisher publishes one of mine? I figure I’m better safe than sorry since there are big fines. Also I think disclosure is a good idea. Still, it seems unfair to hold bloggers to a higher standard than newspaper/magazine reviewers. I’ll come visit your review.

Anonymous said...

I love the theater and am so excited whenever I find people who mix this with novels. Great job! Must check this out.

Sarah Laurence said...

Kathy, I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Ellen Booraem said...

This book sounds I fantasizing, or is it a bit Dorian Grayish? Thanks for the review...and I love the idea of adding photo illustrations--very evocative.

Ellen Booraem said...

Forgot to say...I also enjoyed the post below about your visit to Stratford. When I was there eons ago, I saw Patrick Stewart play Cassius (John Wood was Brutus)--I had standing room seats and didn't even notice. STill the most memorable theatrical experience of my life.

Sarah Laurence said...

Ellen, my understanding is that Wilde’s Dorian Gray is surreal (I confess that I haven’t read that classic) whereas Martin’s novel is realistic if more dramatic than normal life. I saw Patrick Stewart in the Tempest – he was amazing. You must be a true fan of Shakespeare to take standing room!

Bee said...

I don't know this author's work at all, but it sounds intriguing. I assume this work is aimed at adults?

Your pictures are superb. Enjoying the warm(ish) days?

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, I think you’d like this author very much. Martin’s work is literary fiction aimed at adults, but I would have enjoyed Edward Day as a teenager too with its suspense thriller edge and 20-something characters. The material is definitely adult, though.

It has been gorgeously sunny and warm for Maine. I still bundled up for my bike ride today and did not stop by the water. Can’t wait to read your review next.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Isn't it funny how themes sometimes seem to run through through every aspect of our lives?

As always, a good review, paired with excellent pictures.

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyssa, so true - we are what we read. Thank you!

A Cuban In London said...

Loved the review and the images accompanying it. Thanks for the link to that Zadie article. And the quote you put at the end of your article was beautiful. If that's what the book's like, I will be ordering my copy soon.

It's fun writing about the world of the 'luvvies' and 'darlings'. And there're so many psychological conflicts from which to choose that one feels spoiled for choice. However, I agree with you, overplay a bit, and you might be accused of showing off.

Excellent post. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Rosaria Williams said...

Lucky you to be auditing classes. The Martin's book sounds interesting and rich. I shall put it on my list.

Sarah Laurence said...

ACIL, I think you’d enjoy the fine writing in this novel and the theater scene, although it might be lighter than your usual fare. I don’t believe Martin is showing off but rather over-explicating. This would be helpful for a reader who doesn’t know his/her Chekhov but even so a little bit goes a long way. It was also only one passage in the novel. In general she does an excellent job of fitting the plays into her narrative.

Lakeviewer, I think you’d really connect with this author. Amazingly this is the first time I’ve audited a full course at Bowdoin College. I frequently visit campus for special lectures, visiting authors, music etc. College towns are the best place to live.

TBM said...

An interesting sounding book!

Your first photo is stunning--is the water deep?

Dawn Maria said...

I read Martin's MARY REILLY years ago and loved it. Sadly, the movie version was awful. I see some similar themes here between that book and this new one. Looks like I have to add another book on my list to buy.

On a side note Sarah, I finished Geraldine Brooks' MARCH a couple of weeks ago. Wow! And that barely covers it. She's an incredible writer whose command of language is worth studying. MARCH is a small book, but like one of those flourless chocolate cakes, you take a bite and it's so rich.

Rose said...

Another excellent review, Sarah! I didn't have time to participate this month--I'm still a little lost in time in "The Time Traveller's Wife":)

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, the water depth depends on the tide. The Morse River and Kennebec Rivers empty into the Atlantic Ocean at Popham Beach, and the cross currents create some vicious rip tides.

DM, I’ll be curious to hear your take on Edward Day. Thanks for reminding me to read March. I loved Books’s People of the Book. You’ve wetted my appetite with that cake analogy.

Rose, I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife; it was such an original concept. I can’t imagine juggling the out of sequence plotlines, but she makes it appear effortless. Although the middle-aged man in love with a young girl scene was creepy – it only worked in the fictional framework.

Kelly H-Y said...

Great review ... gorgeous pics ... and thanks for the links too!

cynthia newberry martin said...

I enjoyed the review, but I LOVED that last picture of the chair on the dock by the water.

Anil P said...

Enjoyed the review. I've always wondered of what life must be like as a theatre actor, behind the scenes that is.

The last picture is peaceful and cathartic.

Barrie said...

As usual, a wonderful review. Interesting sounding love triangle. And the photos add so much.

Sarah Laurence said...

Kelly, thanks!

Cynthia, location, location, location. This was just the right book to read by the water.

Anil, Edward Day is definitely a behind the scenes book.

Barrie, thanks for the helpful links and for hosting another book review club.

Rosaria Williams said...

Great review, makes me want to check out the book.

Thanks for the info and the links too.

Hana Njau-Okolo said...

Interesting review. And is there such a thing as artistic perfection? When do you know your work of art is complete, perfect even? I find it so difficult to arrive at an accurate analysis of my own work. And apologies in advance for this seemingly tangential comment. But, what I appreciate most is being in the company of creative folk who exhibit such generosity and knock you over with positive words and encouragement.

So, envy, jealousy and creative genius - there is a place for those elements in life, definitely. They serve as hard lessons.

Sounds like a great book, and I'll probably pick it up; but first The Unfinished Novel since I'm really curious about the subject.

Lovely photos and post.

Sarah Laurence said...

Lakeviewer, I’d be interested in what you make of Edward Day.

MS, no need to apologize: I love tangential conversations like this. I don’t believe in artistic perfection. Perfection is too binding and dogmatic. I see art more as an individual expression and a process more than a product. Yes, I LOVE the creative and supportive community that has assembled around our blogs. I think you’d really enjoy Martin's The Unfinished Novel.

Alyson | New England Living said...

You are always well-balanced in your reviews. I like that.

And, of course, your corresponding photographs make it all a visual treat.

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, I strive for balance, and it was a challenge to find a fault in Martin’s superb writing.