Friday, October 2, 2009

The World's a Stage

It's hard to categorize a writer like Valerie Martin. I've read three of her books and they are all very different. “Possession” told the dark and compelling story of the destructive relationship between slave and slave owner in the antebellum South. “Trespass”, which I blogged in last year (Intruders), begins as a domestic story but ultimately expands to the horrors of the Bosnian genocide. Her latest novel, The Confessions of Edward Day, is a story of ambition and jealousy set in the New York theater world of the 1970's. Two young, attractive and ambitious actors, Edward Day and Guy Margate, are rivals both for roles in plays and for the affections of Madeleine, a beautiful young actress. Early in the story Guy saves Edward's life, and this event locks them in a bond of obligation, gratitude and resentment that follows them for decades.

Martin gets inside the psyche of an actor, and made me better understand the process of inhabiting a role. If you've ever seen “Uncle Vanya” or “Sweet Bird of Youth” I think you will enjoy the description of Edward's analysis of his parts in these plays.

As in her other books, Martin does a terrific job of keeping the reader off balance and in creating a mounting sense of tension. The story is told by Edward, but is he a reliable narrator? Many times I would go back and re-read scenes between the two rivals. Did I really know where the truth lay? And what was Madeleine's role in the conflict? To her credit, Martin doesn't try to tidily tie up the answers at the end of the novel. All the actors talk about finding the truth in their characters, but Valerie Martin demonstrates that truth can be elusive.

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