The Confessions of Edward Day Paperback – Aug 13 2009
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"Valerie Martin's sort-of thriller, The Confessions of Edward Day, is one of the best novels I've ever read about the actor's psyche.... Martin builds an ominous tension almost Hitchcockian in its trenchant and perverse knowledge about the human animal.... [She] is like a great character actor who never calls attention to the flesh and blood behind the performance, whose art seems to require or at least contain a special kind of humility or perhaps even a desire to sidestep the limelight.... Edward Day possesses a gimlet eye for both the contributions and the eternal follies of his profession.... It's almost enough to make you believe that an actor should run the world. Wait, scratch that — make it a novelist."
—The New York Times Book Review
"The intimacy of Edward's narrative voice is one of the novel's most startling achievements. We gradually cease to like our main character, yet we stagger after him, captivated. Martin's symbolic substructure — layers of repetition and mirroring — is so skillfully embedded in her story that we feel its effects without realizing it, like an understated but persuasive musical score.... Actors are selected for survival, which explains why ordinary people both admire and revile them.... Martin's grasp of the theater world of the period—a pre-AIDS bohemia of cheap rent and earnest artistic exploration — is as sure as her re-creation of Victorian England in Mary Reilly. One never gets the sense that this is a 'historical novel,' packed with colorful but extraneous detail. In fact, her details are masterful in their spareness. Edward's voice is the anchor, and even if he proves to be, at heart, a little less than 'real,' we are more than willing to hear him out."
—Los Angeles Times
"As an actor who moved to New York in 1970, I inhabited the theater world that Valerie Martin describes in her novel The Confessions of Edward Day. Living on 10th Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place, I drank at Phebe's and the Cedar Tavern, and I worked at the Public Theater when Joe Papp was its emperor — all places where we find Ms. Martin's protagonist, an actor named Edward Day. But conjuring a milieu requires more than just re-creating the physical environment. Ms. Martin knows this – she has previously shown a gift for inhabiting her subject in novels such as Mary Reilly, which captured the Victorian London of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Salvation, about the life of St. Francis of Assisi.... Ms. Martin also gets one thing triumphantly right. At the end of the story, a youngish actor approaches Ed and recalls a role that the older actor played long ago. The part had seemed inconsequential to Ed at the time, and yet the young man says: 'You changed my life.' Ms. Martin has discovered the curse of the profession: Actors can change people's lives, but we have no idea how we do it."
—Edward Herrmann, The Wall Street Journal
"Menace underlies almost every moment of Valerie Martin's latest marvel, The Confessions of Edward Day. Set in the '70s — 'before the soybean had been tamed' — this is a novel full of hungry young pre-Equity actors studying under such Manhattanbased greats as Stella Adler and Sandy Meisner.... Martin's plot is but part of what makes her such a rewarding author. Her gift for suspense is surpassed only by her gifts for dialogue, for description, for variety, for veracity. Not to mention her edge, her wit, her ability to make us smile at the most dire of these actors' times.... Spare with her adjectives, Martin uses only the most apt — and this gives the book's sex scenes a rare transcendence after which, Day says, 'We were quiet then while the world fell back into place'.... Once again, she has drawn us so willingly into her tangled — but always welcoming — web."
—The Buffalo News
"Martin captures the duplicity of the actor perfectly: Sometimes he doesn't know if he's feeling something or if he's acting.... [She] does a terrific job of capturing what it is to go to auditions, work day and night to keep a roof over your head, share camaraderie and rivalry with peers, all to get that longed-for callback for a really great part."
—The Seattle Times
"A lively blend of heartbreak and truth-telling, self-deception and hope."
—New Orleans Times-Picayune
"[Martin] maintains a thriller-like pace and keeps her plot twists dark."
—Time Out New York
"Jealousy. Envy. Resentment. And don't forget ego, which is what Valerie Martin's eighth novel is mostly about."
—The Salt Lake Tribune
"[A] smartly-tailored conception.... Martin draws attention to the divide between literary realism and performance; her arena is psychological and her precise metaphors are what the reader cherishes.... Martin's book makes one wonder how anyone can succeed at the tightrope walk of a Brando or Streep, and how anyone could not be tempted."
"Actors are among the most fascinating and fiery people alive. The Confessions of Edward Day reveals the world of theater actors in New York in the 1970s — mysterious and charming young people in a great era. Valerie Martin never repeats herself. After a memorable novel about Victorian London (Mary Reilly) and the best book there is about slavery (Property), she has now recreated in stunning detail a recent decade that feels as glamorous and remote as the 1890s or the 1920s."
"Edward Day's confession reminded me of how exciting New York theater really was in the 70s. Valerie Martin has truly captured the reality of being an actor and Edward's tale is as suspenseful as a thriller."
"Valerie Martin has given us an entertaining and insightful look at the angst, joy and heartbreak that is the work of the actor. Bravo."
—Ben Gazzara --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Valerie Martin is the author of three collections of short fiction and nine novels, including Mary Reilly and her Orange Prize-winning PROPERTY. She lives in upstate New York.See all Product Description
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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.
You inhale in a few gulps and yet try to relish each breath.
"Their applause sounded like dried peas rattling in a can."
"He gave me another long, magnified look, opening and closing his prune lips a few times like a fish trying to catch a wafer of food in an aquarium."
The relationship between Day and Margate is prickly, tense and full of foreboding. When Margate rescues Day from drowning in the ocean early on, we know the debt will play a significant role. And that's just it--the roles, the conflicts between inner dreams and what you let your friends and associates see--and what you don't let them see.
Intent to practice his Brando - "the wolf on the prowl in search of a mate," the relationship between the tortuously ambitious Edward and the equally ruthless Guy forms the core of this story, when Guy rescues Edward from certain death after almost drowning off the waters of the Jersey Shore. Edward is just about to give into his fate when Guy thuds into the darkness, his arms lifting him and dragging him back into the world: "Sick, weak and grateful to be alive." Guy is the rescuer who saved Edward's life, so how can Edward repay him? Almost at once the metaphorical stage is set for what becomes a battle of wits, wills and of the best roles as both young men battle it out, using the poor, brittle Madeline as a type of ruse. Pretty early on Guy's dark eyes fixate on Madeleine with a sinister distant interest and Edward quickly realizes there's' something unnerving and menacing about him, his demeanor almost like Christopher Walken's "death's-head grin" Both men look a lot alike - a type in a casting call: " the handsome white guys." There's Guy with his "long canines and wolfish grin," and Edward with his piercing eyes who can stop audiences in their tracks.
When Guy finds himself in financial straights, he automatically looks to Edward to help him out, after all this is the chronic condition of the actor. Consequently, Edward is torn between feeling grateful to Guy for saving his life, but what he feels is not gratitude, Edward mostly feels wary of Guy and just like the actor, he's prepared to present him with a reasonable facsimile of the proper emotion. With theatrical aspirations of her own, Madeleine is inspired by both Edward and Guy and their endeavors, but she's brittle and easily led, and also in her own way quite narcissistic and self-absorbed. She lets herself be pulled into the brutal orbit of Edward and Guy, but then is overjoyed at Guy's brief rise in popularly, his success, heralding the realization that that there's nothing going on underneath- "he's just a big stupid naked self-absorbed, unfeeling ape." Ultimately a decade long feud takes place with Guy attacking Edward on three emotional fronts: his feelings for Madeleine, his personal sense of obligation to him for saving his life, and Edward's insecurity as an actor. All the while Martin speculates what means to be an actor. A narcissistic and superstitious tribe, her characters are perhaps fairly representative - always looking for luck and a glimpse of the future, fearing success and embracing failure, desiring that which is dangerous or forbidden and might cause us to suffer while also strive to be independent, longing at the same time to surrender to a burning passion.
From the seedy, ramshackle apartments, the frustration of failed auditions, the relative merits of acting teachers and schools, the catch-22 of Actors' Equity, the anxieties, perils and hilarious adventures of those who have to appear nude onstage, along with the tiny theatres in the West Village, full of plays that were new and forgettable - the novel is a veritable smorgasbord of atmosphere and brightly lit drama. The author offers up the tantalizing symbolism of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya for the final denouement, the role Edward's big break but where a suicide causes Madeleine to slowly unravel on stage, her mind slipping around the edges. Of course, the slow simmering of Guy's mendacity brings Edward to see red as he watches his arch nemesis turn into an egocentric Machiavellian devil incapable of seeing himself as anything but wronged. Mike Leonard August 09.
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.
As usual, Valerie Martin walks around her topics to observe all sides, and isn't scared of big themes. This time it is life and death, the Double, the Self and Other, the limits of what we can know. Above all, though, it studies the impact of a persecutor in your life.
Edward was one of four boys to a mother who had longed for a daughter. He was the most girlish of them and closest to his mother, but she abandoned her family for a lesbian relationship. Edward's first night of sex with a girl coincides with his mother's suicide. It leaves him with a wish to be other than he is. He declares that his acting isn't about narcissism or even self-expression, but rather the chance to be someone else.
A talented fellow actor later tells him: "I get myself from what I see you getting about me." But that is different to seeing oneself only through a persona, through an outer shell seen by others, like politicians crafting themselves around their images. That "is not, perhaps, a bad way to start", Edward tells us, but you truly find yourself as an actor when you discover and draw out your inner self, and subordinate it to your purposes.
Such subtlety distinguishes Edward from fellow actor Guy Margate. Guy sees himself only through a persona, even in moments of crisis. He is unaware, for example, of how his jealous gaze at Edward could be applied on stage. His gift for mimicry actually brings out the limitations of that form, its distance from true acting; mimics, we're told, are rarely good actors.
The story turns around Guy and Edward. They are both aspiring actors, very similar looking, chasing the same parts. In one scene they actually stare at each other's reflections in the mirror. They pursue the same woman, fellow thespian Madeleine. This 'double' stuff is so blatant that we are being invited, I think, to look beyond it.
The reader first encounters Guy in the act of saving Edward's life. One night Edward swims out from a beach near the holiday house where he has been partying with other young actors (and seducing one of them), but gets caught by a riptide. Guy swims out and pulls him free, but from then on Guy is toxic for Edward. Like Edward's mother, Guy follows the gift of life with small but ongoing doses of death.
Guy sets Edward up, puts him in a bad light whereever possible, overpowers him in any social situation he can. He finds and plays on weak spots, sends varied signals of menace. A true proficient, he also seeks to disorient Edward through moments of phoney friendship.
The biggest problem for Edward is Guy's parasitic hunger for his life. His hard-won bits of money will do for a start. Then there is the issue of Edward's latent theatrical talent. Perhaps Guy senses that whatever his own short terms successes he is hollow as an actor and person. The "dead gazing upon the living", he fastens on Edward, he will never just drift away.
Perhaps it amused a female writer to study rivalry between men.
Above all, it is a fight over the fellow young thespian Madeleine. Within this triangle another theme of the book plays out: the limits of what we can know of the world and one another. We see only through Edward's eyes, so a lot of their interplay is hidden. But Guy's cold commentary on Edward suggests that our enemies have insights about us, knowledge we ourselves lack or won't look at.
In these memoirs Edward does not give Madeleine's personality the same attention as Guy's; indeed, once he has her for himself his interest in her declines, until Guy makes another move on her, and the story darkens.
Madeleine's vagueness contrasts with the dazzling power of Marlene Webern, as she blazes briefly through Edward's career. An older, accomplished performer, Marlene sees deeply into Edward and shocks him to life as an actor. He lusts for her yet she is really the Good Mother he's missed, and whom Guy will never have.
At one curious moment early in the book, when Guy and Edward walk away from the noctural beach rescue, Guy insists that they already know each other. Perhaps so: his animosity to Edward is already fully formed. In that case Edward as autobiographer has left many blanks, and has let this anecdote slip through a calculatedly false account of their relationship. Some reviewers have taken this approach and one interpreted Edward himself as a monster. But I think it would be more in keeping with the story to understand Guy's assertion as the first of many ploys to knock his enemy off balance. In that case his hatred of Edward had ignited only hours before, during a the party in which Edward was busy with Madeleine, still blessedly unaware of Guy's existence.