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The Confessions of Edward Day: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 11, 2009

4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Amazon Exclusive: Jane Smiley Reviews The Confessions of Edward Day

Jane Smiley is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres and more than ten other works of fiction, as well as three works of nonfiction, including a critically acclaimed biography of Charles Dickens. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in northern California. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review of The Confessions of Edward Day:

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)

From Publishers Weekly

Martin (Mary Reilly; Property) adroitly plays with the boundary between reality and performance in her fluidly written new novel about a group of New York thespians in the 1970s and '80s. Aspiring actor Edward Day is the book's charismatic if self-centered narrator who begins his tale with reminiscences of his deceased mother, a woman whose gender issues left him confused and guilty, emotions he mines in his acting. During a New Jersey shore beach party with a group of ambitious fellow acting students including Edward's love, Madeleine, Edward falls into the ocean and is rescued by Guy Margate, who becomes his rival in love and in the theater. The tension and constantly shifting exchange of power between the two men as they battle for Madeleine's attentions and struggle with their careers propels the plot until the love triangle comes to a dramatic head. Guy is a slippery character, while Edward, in his search for truth in acting and in life makes a compelling fictional memoirist. Another winner for Martin, who never disappoints. (Aug.)
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385525842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385525848
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,469,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"The Confessions of Edward Day" is light on its feet, packed with the energy of a good thriller and pulls you in like a gripping Patricia Highsmith--almost as if Highsmith had found a slightly more literary voice. Even the New York setting evokes Highsmith's work and both Edward Day and his friend-nemesis Guy Margate display the determined, relentless drive of some of her darkest characters. Just when I thought "The Confessions of Edward Day" might morph into a soap opera (such as during the summer theatre scenes in Connecticut) a nifty surprise or two brought the plot roaring back. The ending, as neatly timed as "Noises Off," had the potential to turn trite--a gun backstage, "Uncle Vanya" on stage--but was buoyed by Martin's dazzling touch. When the denouement carries a sweet last morsel of suspense, you find yourself thinking of "Confessions of Edward Day" as the finest, most well-crafted book you've read in a long time and you ask yourself, "how did she do that?"

All three characters in the love triangle are up-and-coming actors when we meet them and one of the strengths of "Confessions" is living inside the head of an actor who is learning his craft and also watching others learn theirs.

Thinking about Guy's growth as an actor, Day thinks: "He could never see himself from himself. He created character from the outside looking in, he constructed a persona. Basically anyone can do it, politicians can do it nonstop. It's not, perhaps, a bad way to start. But Guy could never inhabit a character because he was himself so uninhabited. Nobody home, yet he wasn't without strong emotions. I didn't know that last part then."

The writing is brisk, clever. This will be one of the fastest 286-page books you might ever read.
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Format: Hardcover
Martin hits a slam dunk with this wry and thoughtful novel set in the Manhattan theatre world of the 1970's where much of the story is framed around the illusions and theatrical aspirations of its three main characters, Edward Day, his arch nemesis the dashing Guy Margate and the beautiful but brittle Madeleine Delavergne whose mysterious ascendancy to the boards of off-Broadway is ultimately poignant and tragic. Like the stuff of Shakespeare, the novel begins with a tragedy when Edward's mother and her girlfriend Helen commit suicide together in their Brooklyn apartment, the act a catalyst for Edward as he finds solace in his acting classes. A remedy from unbearable sorrow and guilt, Edward plunges into his new craft, searching for a visceral way to give an audience everything they need to know about suffering, overwhelmingly drawing on his personal tragedy. It is here in New York as Edward endures the frustration of auditions and the anxious wait for call-back sessions that he meets his first great love, the beautiful and completely fearless Madeleine who makes him laugh and is "evidently available." Edward is rhapsodic. And even as he befriends the curly-headed Teddy and his friend Mindy, partaking in late night swimming and smoking pot, his affair with Madeleine is cemented amid the sighs and cries muffled by the steady rumbling of the tide. Typical of his tribe, Edward is plagued with self-important narcissism, his young life characterized by a type of self congratulatory grandeur. It's not surprising then, the desire for Madeline loses its edge and a comfortable familiar smugness appears to take its place.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The value of *The Confessions of Edward Day* is primarily in its evocation of the milieu of the 1970s theatre scene in New York. It nicely captures the struggles of young actors to ply their trade, and works to connect that to questions of selfhood and identity.

Stylistically, its well-written enough, and the plot is fine, as it hinges largely on a doppleganger device that never quite works. The cover image suggests an almost Magrittean exploration of identity, image and emptiness, but what we mostly get is a blend of some pretty straitforward genres: the romance plot, the kunstlerroman, and the double. The kinds of identity-as-performance lines of thinking that are, frankly, ripe for the picking in a novel with this set up, never materialize, and in the end, the novel turns out to be a pretty good (but not great) tale, but little more.
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Format: Paperback
In Confessions, Valerie Martin creates a convincing protagonist of the opposite sex, a tough and not often successful task for any writer. Martin is also very good on the lives of actors trying to succeed in New York's theater world. In another early scene, she pushes her readers into a near drowning experience. It's gripping and scary reading. All this is a backdrop to a romantic triangle and rivalry. A big continuing question for me throughout the novel is whether Edward Day is a reliable narrator. Most reviewers here seem to take his reliability as a given -- I'm not so sure especially when his immediate reaction to the sudden unavailability of his leading lady (and another leg of the romantic triangle) is how hard it's going to be on him having to adapt to an understudy's read of the role. In other words, I wondered throughout if Edward Day is acting in his writing just as he acts on a stage. Yes or no, and I certainly could be wrong, this novel is a great read.
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