From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Smiley (A Thousand Acres) goes Hollywood in this scintillating tale of an extended Decameron-esque L.A. house party. Gathering at the home of washed-up director Max the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards are his Iraq-obsessed girlfriend, Elena; his movie-diva ex-wife Zoe and her yoga instructor–cum–therapist–cum– boyfriend Paul; Max's insufferably PC daughter, Isabel, and his feckless agent, Stoney, who are conducting a secret affair; Zoe's oracular mother, Delphine; and Max's boyhood friend and token Republican irritant Charlie. They watch movies, negotiate their clashing diets and health regimens, indulge in a roundelay of lasciviously detailed sexual encounters and, most of all, talk—holding absurd, meandering, beguiling conversation about movies, Hollywood, relationships, the war and the state of the world. Through it all, they compulsively reimagine daily life as art: Max dreams of making My Lovemaking with Elena, an all-nude, sexually explicit indie talk-fest inspired by My Dinner with Andre, but Stoney wants him to remake the Cossack epic Taras Bulba. Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet she treats her characters, their concern with compelling surfaces and their perpetual quest to capture reality through artifice, with warmth and seriousness. In their shallowness, she finds a kind of profundity. (Feb.)
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Jane Smiley, who won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres, has written on a range of topics: horses, midwestern university life, real estate, Greenland, and, most recently, literature (13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, ***1/2 Jan/Feb 2006). Ten Days, a social satire, tackles the superficial lives of Hollywood denizensto mixed acclaim. Many reviewers were sufficiently entertained by watching Smiley's set of spoiled, if smart, individuals interact and ruminate on their self-involved concerns; others found the conversations hackneyed. While Smiley's use of the Iraq war created some enlightened discussion, it also seemed like a heavy-handed device. Critics similarly diverged on the characters, which reflected their own view of the novel: some characters stood out; others did not. A few learned important lessons at the end of ten daysbut most did not.
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