Book Quote:

“Sometimes she sees her life as a series of set pieces rolling in and then out again, realistic enough to fool the camera but unable to withstand closer examination. Any inspection would reveal the flatness of everything, the false walls and painted-on doorknobs, the paper and paste in which everything is rendered. She would like to see it as the camera would see it. And so she keeps her distance. ”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte  (DEC 14, 2010)

For the longest time, growing up in rural Virginia, Birdie Baker is convinced she is destined to follow the path set forth by her devout Christian parents. Like them, as a Jehovah’s Witness, she will spread the word of the Lord, marry, settle down and wrap it up. But the sense of unease that plagues her even after she is married to a church-going man named Judah, is worsened when she runs into her high school drama teacher at the grocery store. “What are you still doing here?” he asks, “I figured the next time I saw you it would be in a movie.” Eventually, leave Virgina she does. Birdie pools all her savings toward a one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles.

When the story first finds Birdie in LA, she is nearly 30 (although she is told to set her age as 26) and struggling to make it big. She does mainly “appendage work, a glorified crash test dummy” where parts of her body fill in for more famous actresses’. Her biggest break—if you can call it that—has been in a commercial for fabric softeners.

The wheels of success might be moving too slowly for Birdie’s satisfaction, but her devoted agent Redmond, promises her bigger and better things are just around the corner. “These things progress organically,” he points out. “Organically?” she says, “Are we farming? Do me a favor. Make it fast and artificial.”

Forever on the cusp of success, Birdie must schmooze at endless parties and try to make an impression. Word-of-mouth, after all, is big here in Hollywood. It is at one of these parties that she meets 21-year-old Lewis, another struggling actor who is even worse off than she is. Lewis works at one temp job after the other, hoping to land a job—any job in the movies.

Author Jenny Hollowell does a spectacular job here with her debut novel. Her prose is sparkling, crisp and edgy all the while moving the story relentlessly forward. There are heartbreaking moments in the novel—Lewis’ excitement at finding a job as an extra on a set and his subsequent letdown is a wonderful example.

In an interview at the end of the book, Hollowell explains that she sought to shine light on how as adults, we “struggle to navigate the disparity between our parents’ expectations of us and the life we imagine for ourselves.” She achieves this objective wonderfully. Birdie is endlessly racked with guilt at having left—at cutting loose the strings that once held her so strongly.

The city of Los Angeles too is a vibrant entity here. As she describes one Hollywood party, Hollowell writes: “The city lies supplicant beneath the party, its lights sparkling and winking as if it existed solely for the partygoers’ enchantment, just another lovely accessory that would be packed up along with the rented glassware and returned at the end of the night.” At the same time, not all is glitz and glamour in the city. She also wonderfully writes about the squalor of LA and sees how from a distance (the Hollywood Hills) even this chaos can be “transformed into something twinkling and lovely and benign.”

For all its despair and bleakness, Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe has its share of cutting humor. This is not a book that is all doom and gloom.

There are many cinematic scenes in here and Birdie even instructs Lewis to imagine that life is just a series of scenes—it makes the disappointment more bearable, she says. In a movie she watches, Birdie describes the end “as it always is, a road leading into the unseen distance, implying both hope and hopelessness.” The same ending applies to Hollowell’s wonderful novel.

Told in brief chapters with absolutely readable, edgy prose, Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe is a novel that deserves a wide audience. A character in the novel defines the word “lovely” as “beauty with a dimension of grace.” By that very definition, Jenny Hollowell’s novel is very, very lovely indeed.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 8 readers
PUBLISHER: Holt Paperbacks; First Edition edition (June 8, 2010)
REVIEWER: Poormina Apte
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Jenny Hollowell
EXTRAS: Excerpt and Q&A

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas


December 14, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, California, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Drift-of-Life

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