Filled with dramatic and theatrical conceits, Martin’s latest novel plunges
readers into the ramshackle theatre world of the 1970s, where actors are self-obsessed narcissists forever in thrall to their own images. In this world, true love is framed around the illusions and aspirations of three characters: the handsome and talented Edward Day; his arch-nemesis, the dashing Guy Margate; and the beautiful but brittle Madeleine Delavergne, who eventually finds herself caught up in the lives of both men.
After his mother’s tragic suicide in a Brooklyn apartment, Edward Day registers for acting classes in Manhattan. Driven by an ambition he can scarcely understand, he sees the profession as a remedy from his unbearable sorrow and guilt.
Drawing on his personal tragedy, acting is the perfect solution and a visceral way for Edward to give his budding audience everything they need to know about suffering.
One of the first people Edward meets is beautiful, completely fearless Madeleine Delavergne, who makes him laugh and is “evidently available.” From the first moments, Edward is totally rhapsodic, the affair cemented one night amid sighs and cries muffled by the steady rumbling of the tide on a New Jersey
At the same time, Edward meets Guy Margate, a similarly good-looking and
ambitious young actor who rescues Edward from certain death after almost
drowning off the waters of the Jersey Shore. Thudding into the darkness, his
arms lift Edward and drag him back into the world “sick, weak and grateful to be alive.” Guy is determined that Edward find some way to repay him.
Edward and Guy are highly protective of their egos, both like Brando - “the wolf on the prowl in search of a mate”
- yet central to Martin’s story is the complicated, ambiguous three-way relationship that develops between Edward, Guy, and Madeleine. Guy begins to fixate in Madeleine with a sinister, almost distant interest. Edward quickly realizes there’s something unnerving and menacing about him, his demeanor almost like Christopher Walken’s “death’s-head grin.”
With theatrical aspirations of her own, Madeleine is inspired by Edward and Guy, but she
is brittle and easily led - and also in her own way quite narcissistic and self-absorbed. Even as Madeleine lets herself be pulled into
Guy's brutal orbit, he becomes the real Machiavellian character. Attacking Edward and ambushing his feelings for Madeleine,
Guy also covets a personal sense of obligation to him for saving his life as he chips away at Edward’s insecurities as an actor.
Martin cleverly frames her love story around the great playwrights Strindberg, Shakespeare and Anton Chekhov; the final confrontation between Guy and Edward takes place just as Edward and Madeleine begin to hit the big time in an off-Broadway production of
"Uncle Vanya." Most compelling is the author’s intimate knowledge of the chronic poverty-ridden condition of the actor along with her wry insights into their seemingly perpetual narcissism: “We go around screwing each other as much as possible, mostly to see ourselves do it.”
While the story plays out amid lives characterized by the frustration of failed auditions, the boredom of classes, the catch-22 of Actor’s Equity, and the merits of acting teachers and schools, all the while Edward looks back on it all, struck not only by his ignorance but also by his apparent myopia.
A veritable smorgasbord of atmosphere and brightly lit drama, Martin’s delightful novel is about Edward’s journey as an artist and a man as he confronts the inevitability of choices that were once difficult and complex. In the end, Edward’s loyalty to Madeleine ultimately endures throughout the trials and dramas, his love a barrier and a panacea to the slow, simmering mendacity of Guy Margate.