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Novels about actors are often very sour and condescending (I am thinking of you, Somerset Maugham!), but The Confessions of Edward Day is such a lovely book. It really is a self-contained gem, like a pearl or a faceted stone, never purporting to be more than it seems to be (a tale of ambitious young actors struggling to get ahead in the New York theater scene in the 1970s), but with such real beauty and resonance that the reader can’t help appreciating Valerie Martin’s unfailing wisdom and skill. Edward himself is a sympathetic character, and I always admire a woman writer who seems to write effortlessly from a man’s point of view (especially if she has also written effortlessly from a woman’s point of view in the past, as Valerie Martin has done so often). Lovers of the theater (of any era) will love this book because of its insights into how plays come together (or don’t) and, I hope, because of its play-like structure (very neat, and yet suspenseful, too). As with Property and Mary Reilly especially (two of my Martin favorites), I really felt the depth of Martin’s knowledge of her subject, and yet she carries it easily. Lovers of the novel are in for a treat. I couldn’t help marveling at Martin’s ability not to make a mistake—to make me feel absolutely present at those sometimes quite dramatic scenes, and yet to keep all those thematic balls in the air, to juggle her motifs ever so gracefully, to honor the mysteriousness of her subject, but make those mysteries crystal clear. I read this in two days--after about page ten, I didn’t want to put it down. I do think Valerie Martin is one of the best novelists we have. There is always more in every book than meets the eye. The Confessions of Edward Day--highly recommended! --Jane Smiley
(Photo © Mark Bennington)