The New York Times
The Confessions of Edward Dayby Valerie Martin
A brilliant new novel set in the bohemian, glamorous theater world of 1970s New York, by the Orange Prize-winning author of Property.
It’s the 1970s in New York—rents are cheap, love is free, and with the explosion of theater venues off and off-off Broadway, aspiring actors will work for nothing in no clothes. Enter Edward Day, who/i>
A brilliant new novel set in the bohemian, glamorous theater world of 1970s New York, by the Orange Prize-winning author of Property.
It’s the 1970s in New York—rents are cheap, love is free, and with the explosion of theater venues off and off-off Broadway, aspiring actors will work for nothing in no clothes. Enter Edward Day, who wants more than anything to move an unsuspecting audience to an experience of emotional truth. But he must also contend with the drama of his own life: he is locked in a bitter rivalry with fellow actor Guy Margate, with whom he shares a marked physical resemblance and a fatal attraction to the beautiful, talented, and all-too-available Madeleine Delavergne. Edward’s pursuit of Madeleine is complicated by the fact that he owes Guy his life. In this riveting tale of paranoia, passion, jealousy, and relentless ambition, Edward will learn that the truth, in the theater as in life, is ever elusive and never inert.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“Suspenseful. . . . A self-contained gem. . . . Lovers of the novel are in for a treat. . . . Valerie Martin is one of the best novelists we have.” —Jane Smiley
“One of the best novels I’ve ever read about the actor’s psyche.” —Laurie Winer, The New York Times Book Review
“Martin 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
“Briskly chilling. . . . Faultlessly captures the young New York actor’s cloistered world of classes, auditions, day jobs and competitive friendships.” —The Washington Post
“Martin tells [The Confessions of Edward Day] with great skill and sympathy.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Like an understated but persuasive musical score. . . . [Martin’s] details are masterful in their spareness.” —The Los Angeles Times
“[A] marvel. . . . [Martin’s] 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. . . . Once again, she has drawn us so willingly into her tangled—but always welcoming—web.” —The Buffalo News
“An interesting thriller. . . . You’ll be hooked.” —The Miami Herald
“The Confessions of Edward Day reveals a journeyman storyteller exploring yet another new-to-her world. And aren’t we lucky to have such great seats for the ride?” —January Magazine
“A lively blend of heartbreak and truth-telling, self-deception and hope.” —The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
“Martin . . . returns in fine form. . . . A richly entertaining meditation on the price of success.” —Howard County Times
“A chilling end . . . leaves us intrigued.” —The Salt Lake Tribune
“An icy psychosexual thriller. . . . The text knowingly embodies its theme, performance, rehearsing, riffing, interpreting, as an actor interprets a script. And thanks to the deadpan narration the jokes are fun.” —The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
“When the climax finally comes, all the pieces fall into place, but not in a predictable way. Like the roles that Edward plays, the final scene is open to interpretation by all the participants, as well as by the reader.” —Yamhill-Valley News-Register
“One of Martin’s best novels yet . . . . [She] builds a vivid world full of wisdom for the lives that it illuminates. . . . Full of warmth and intrigue whose pages do all but turn themselves.” —The Australian
“Echo[es] an established classic . . . The Picture of Dorian Gray. . . . Valerie Martin is an impressively dexterous writer. . . . Where the book scores is in its stylish, intelligent, unruffled prose.” —The Telegraph (UK)
“Hugely enjoyable.” —The Independent (UK)
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
Part I My mother liked to say Freud should have been strangled in his crib. Not that she had ever read one line of the eminent psychoanalyst's writing or knew anything about his life and times. She probably thought he was a German; she might have gotten his actual dates wrong by half a century. She didn't know about the Oedipus complex or the mechanics of repression, but she knew that when children turned out badly, when they were conflicted and miserable and did poorly in school, Freud blamed the mother. This was arrant nonsense, Mother declared. Children turned out the way they turned out and mothers were as surprised as anyone else. Her own strategy for child rearing had been to show no interest at all in how her children turned out, so how could she be held responsible for them? Proof of Mother's assertions might be found in the relatively normal men her four sons grew to be, not a pervert or a criminal among us, though my oldest brother, Claude, a dentist, has always shown far too much interest in crime fiction of the most violent and degraded sort, and my profession, while honest, is doubtless, in some quarters, suspect. For the other two, Mother got her doctor and lawyer, the only two professions her generation ever recommended. My brothers' specialties have the additional benefit of being banal: the doctor is a urologist and the lawyer handles real estate closings. My mother was a tall, beautiful woman, with dark hair, fair skin, an elegant long neck, and excellent posture. She was poorly educated and, as a young mother, intensely practical. My father had various jobs in the civil service in Stamford; his moves were sometimes lateral, occasionally up. She hardly seemed to notice him when we were around, but there must have been some spark between them. She had her sons in sets, the first two a year apart, a five-year lapse, and then two more. I was the last, her last effort—this was understood by all—to have a girl. Even if Freud hadn't encouraged me to, I think I would still have to blame Mother for my craving to be someone else, and not only because she wasn't satisfied with who I am, though she wasn't, not from the start. My middle name is Leslie and that's what I was called at home; I became Edward when I went away to boarding school in Massachusetts. Mother had "gender issues," but none of us realized how serious they were until after she died. This mournful event took place when I was nineteen, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, and it was preceded by a seismic upheaval that lasted six months, during which time Mother left my father for a woman named Helen, who was ten years her junior and bent on destruction. Mother wasn't naturally a warm person—I know that now—and she must have been lonely and frustrated for years, surrounded from dawn to dark, as she was, by the unlovely spectacle of maleness. A frequent expression upon entering a room in which her sons were engaged in some rude or rowdy masculine behavior was "Why are boys so . . ." As the youngest, I took this to heart and tried to please her, not without some success. I kept my corner of the bedroom spotless, made my bed with the strict hospital corners she used on her own, rinsed my dishes at the sink after the pot roast, meat loaf, or fried chicken dinner, and expressed an interest in being read to. I wasn't picky about the stories, either; tales of girlish heroism were fine with me, hence my acquaintance with the adventures of such heroines as Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, and all the travails of the shrewdly observant Laura in the Little House books. I know, as few men do, my fairy tales, from Rumpelstiltskin to the Little Goose Girl, stories certainly grisly enough to terrify even a stalwart little boy and which I take to explain the surprisingly violent images that so often surface in the consciousness exercises of young actresses. Mother was a good reader; she changed her voices for the different characters. She had a cackling crone, a booming good fellow, and a frightened little girl in her repertory, and she moved from one to the other with ease. Long after I could read myself, I approached her after dinner with a book clutched to my chest and asked if she "felt like" reading to me. Many times she didn't, and she wasn't terribly nice about refusing me. But when she agreed, I was invited to lean against her on the couch, watch the pages turning beneath her bloodred fingernails, and feel her voice through her arm. She was a smoker, so there was the cloud of smoke wafting up from her lips as Nancy cautioned her dopey boyfriend Ned not to open the suitcase they'd found in the empty house. It was all very comforting and at the same time confusing, also mysterious and sexually disturbing. But I like to remember Mother that way, and myself, her favorite, her Leslie, the good boy who hung on her words. When I went off to school and became Edward, I had no clear idea of myself; perhaps that was why I was drawn to acting. Inside a character I knew exactly who I was, the environment was controlled, and no one was going to do anything unexpected. It seemed a way of playing it safe. Of course, real acting is the farthest thing from safe a person can get, but I didn't know that then. Perhaps in some corner of my adolescent consciousness, I understood that my mother would eventually crack under the strain of the role she herself was playing with increasing reluctance and incredulity. On school vacations she and my father were glum and irritable. One night she put a roasted chicken on the table and announced that it was the last meal she was cooking. She joined a reading group, but this quickly bored her and she decided to become a potter. This led to sculpture and ultimately ironwork. On my next vacation there was a welding torch on the kitchen table and all food was takeout. A few days before I graduated from high school my father called me to say Mother was moving out; she would be living with a "friend" named Helen, someone she had met at the artist co-op where Mother had rented a space to do her sculpture. I saw Mother and Helen together once. They were living in an apartment in Brooklyn, two rooms above an Italian deli, strong odor of provolone and red sauce. Helen spent my visit turning over the pages of a fashion magazine at the kitchen table, occasionally fixing me with a baleful glare. She was clearly, totally nuts. Mother served me coffee and some hard cookies from the deli; she tried to make small talk, asked about my courses, disapproved of my interest in theater, recommended medicine, law, the usual. I told her I was far too squeamish for medicine; I feel faint when I see my own blood, no, seriously faint. This made Mother laugh, which provoked Helen to push back her chair and shout, "I can't stand to see you like this. I hate this part of you," after which she stormed out of the apartment. "She's so high-strung," Mother assured me after the door stopped reverberating in the ill-fitting frame. "She's just too sensitive to live." When I returned from this disturbing interview, I found my father meticulously washing out a coffee cup at the kitchen sink. He was stoical—civil service does that for a man—and he was mystified by Mother's abdication of her domestic reign. "So did you see this divine Helen?" he asked. "Briefly," I said. He turned to me, swabbing the dishcloth inside the cup. "What did you think?" "Scary," I said. He nodded. "I guess your mother really wanted a girl," he said. I went back to school and after a few months Mother's sudden and bold defection seemed almost bearable. I was absorbed in experiments of my own, concocting an identity from the flimsy material of my considerable naivete about the world in general and sex in particular. I was smitten by a senior in my theater arts class—I've repressed her name for reasons that will shortly be obvious—but I'll call her Brunnhilde, as she was a shapely Nordic princess with eyes as ice-blue as my own. To my astonishment she indulged my fawning jokes and compliments. Our classmates referred to me as her lapdog, which amused us both, and made for crude punning about laps and lapping, etc. She lived in an apartment off campus with a roommate from New Jersey who occasionally went home on weekends. It was a dumpy two rooms above a garage, but it was the height of sophistication in our set to be invited to Brunnhilde's Friday-afternoon BYOB party. One day in class our professor, doubtless sensing sparks between us, put Brunnhilde and me together for a word exercise, the results of which were so electric the class burst into applause. To my joy, my beauty leaned across her desk, pushing back her wedge of straw-colored hair and said, "Come by on Friday, after five, if you like. It's 58 Gower, in the back." Who knows what disgusting bottle of wine I brought to this occasion; something I got a friend to purchase as I wasn't of age. Perhaps it was the ditchwater that came in the fish-shaped bottle, or the ghastly Mateus that was the coin of the realm. Or something red, to brighten the vomit that was not an uncommon occurrence late in the evening at the Gower Street gathering. My hostess only smiled and deposited my offering on the card table with the others, introducing me to the assembled guests who were all older than me, though they appeared not to notice. Soon I was ensconced on a lumpy couch, swallowing huge draughts of cheap wine and holding forth on the existential commitment required to bring truth to a theatrical performance. To be, or not to be, it wasn't just the question, it was, in fact, the method. Drivel along those lines. The company took me up, they praised me, and I was their breathless ingenue. At some point a marijuana pipe appeared, moving steadily from hand to hand, and I had my first taste of that. It grew late, the empty bottles outnumbered the full, and couples began to drift out into the night in search of food or more licentious entertainment. I stayed on, switching to beer which was still in good supply. At last we were alone and Brunnhilde ran her hand along my thigh. "Would you like to see my bedroom?" she asked, serious as a church. I spent the night there and most of the next day. Late in the afternoon I stumbled back to my dorm room for a change of clothes and more money, my brain grinding with amazement and apprehension. It was paradise in Brunnhilde's bedroom, but I knew I would have to be very alert, very dutiful if I wanted a key to the gates. I scarcely glanced at the message scrawled on a scrap of paper by the phone. Your mother called, 6 p.m. Your mother again 10:30. Mother again, MIDNIGHT. So she knew I'd been out late, but would she care? I didn't want to waste time making excuses because I was in a hurry to get to the cafe near the university where my darling had agreed to meet me. It would be un-loverlike to keep her waiting on what was, after all, our first real date. I would call my mother back at the earliest opportunity. It was Sunday evening before I got the news and by that time Mother wasn't making any calls. The new message read: Your father called. Urgent, call at once. Even this, in my state of elation combined with sexual exhaustion, didn't make me suspicious. "Where have you been?" my father said when he heard my voice. "Exam tomorrow," I said. "I pulled an all-nighter at the library." "I want you to sit down, son," he said. "Something terrible has happened." So I sat down and he told me that my mother and her girlfriend Helen had committed suicide together in the Brooklyn apartment sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning. When Helen failed to turn up at her regular Saturday appointment, her psychiatrist made repeated attempts to reach her self-destructive patient. At last on Sunday morning she called the landlord who let himself in to find his tenants in bed, naked in each other's arms, the empty bottles of Seconal lined up next to two glasses of water on the bedside table. I wonder now what I said. I remember a torrent of incredulity; for several moments I simply didn't believe my ears. I looked around at the suddenly unfamiliar furniture of my Spartan dorm room and spotted, of course, the scrap of paper with the message that concluded: Mother again, MIDNIGHT. The ensuing sob that rose from very deep within me came out as an agonized groan of pain. "Son, do you want me to drive down to get you?" my father said. "Oh Dad," I wailed. "Oh Dad . . ." But I didn't say, She called me, and I never did tell him, or anyone else for that matter. My roommate knew but we were hardly more than acquaintances and he, out of courtesy perhaps, never said anything about the messages. When I got home my brothers were all there and it was clear that she had not tried to call any of them, or my father, either. Just me, the baby, Leslie, who made her laugh with my horror of blood. She'd left a note, addressed to no one, two words: I'm sorry. After the funeral, I returned to school. You can imagine my confusion. I was nineteen, an innocent, and my emotions were in an uproar. I wasn't so naive as to equate sex with death, though my experience certainly suggested the connection forcefully: have sex, your mother kills herself. Rationally I knew I had nothing to do with Mother's despair, though I couldn't resist speculating about how differently things might have gone if I'd been what Mother wanted: a girl. Would a daughter have walked into the cramped apartment, taken one look at Helen, and said, "No, Mom, you're not doing this"? Worst of all was the second-guessing about the missed calls; if I had been studying in my room like a diligent student, could I have saved her? This question kept me awake at night. For months I woke to a refrain that sent me out of the dorm and into the late-night diners near the campus—She needed me, I wasn't there. Of course word had gotten around that I was a motherless boy, and sympathetic female arms stretched out to me from every direction. I said Mother had died suddenly in her sleep, which satisfied everyone and wasn't entirely a lie. Brunnhilde was suitably tentative when next we met. Though I said nothing about the manner of Mother's death Brunnhilde understood that the proximity of the event to our first coupling might be disturbing to me. I declined the halfhearted invitation to the Friday gatherings and in a few weeks she had a new lapdog, a budding playwright who wrote monologues about his miserable childhood in Trenton, New Jersey. Gradually the shock wore off and I began to take an interest in my feelings as opposed to simply feeling them nonstop. My acting classes were particularly useful for this. As Stanislavski observed, "In the language of an actor to know is synonymous with to feel." My studies offered access to the very knowledge I most required. Many actors are called to their profession by an insatiable craving to be seen, to be admired, and to be famous, but for me acting was an egress from unbearable sorrow and guilt. My emotions at that point were the strongest thing about me; they did battle with one another and I looked on, a helpless bystander. This, I realized, mirrored the position of the audience before the stage. I wanted to find a visceral way to give an audience everything they needed to know about suffering, which is, after all, the subject of most drama, including comedies, hence the expression "I laughed until I cried." I studied my peers and attempted to assess my position among them. Many were drawn to the theater because they possessed such physical beauty that they stood out in a crowd, they looked like actors, but what, I wondered, possessed the overweight girls, the hopelessly nerdy guys who would be doomed by their physiognomy to a lifetime of character parts? One in particular fascinated me, a short, scrawny, colorless boy named Neil Nielson, who cultivated a scanty reddish mustache beneath his pudgy inelegant nose and gazed upon the world through wire-rimmed lenses that magnified his lashless, watery eyes to twice their size. Physically there was nothing appealing about him, but he had a voice that was the envy of us all, as rich and melodious as a cello. When he laughed, a smile flickered on every face within earshot. Naturally, he was called "the voice." A future in radio beckoned him, which was too bad because he was a gifted actor. If you saw him sitting at a bar you wouldn't look twice, but on a stage he had a weirdly erotic force—he would have made a great Richard III. He was interested in me because girls were, and he hoped to pick up on that action. I liked his company because he had serious things to say about acting. His approach was remarkably selfless; he found his character outside himself. We once did a Pinter scene in a workshop; I think it was from Betrayal. We exchanged roles after a break and did it again. I was astounded by what his interpretation did to my own, it was as if I was being subjected to a minute and continuous analysis by someone who could see right into the heart of me, my motivations and anxieties laid more bare with each exchange. Later I asked him how he did what he did and he said something I've never forgotten: "I get myself from what I see you getting about me." It sounds like nonsense, but I think I understood it. Neil was doomed to bring out the best in lesser actors and to his credit, he didn't seem to mind. He played Rosencrantz in the production of Hamlet that was the triumph of my senior year. We did eight performances and our brief scene together was different every night. If there was a scintilla of suspicion in my greeting—How dost thou Guildenstern! Ah Rosencrantz!—he picked it up and proceeded with utmost caution, but if my manner expressed pleasure and relief to discover true friends in the prison that was Denmark, his overconfidence was his death warrant. He made keen play of his small bit, and as our Polonius was a lifeless drone, my heart lifted when I saw Neil's pointed little beard and glinting glasses enter the pool of light that it was my sovereign right to occupy in the universe of that play. There was nothing especially intelligent or innovative about my own performance, though everyone, including the local press, praised it as if they'd never seen my equal. My teachers gushed with enthusiasm; my director, a voluptuous graduate student, fell in love with me, and we had a brief affair. I knew I was feeling my way, that my insecurity was part of what made my prince Hamlet so appealing. I was, as he was, a youth, a student, and I had lost a parent in suspicious circumstances. It was during those rehearsals that I first allowed myself the thought that my mother's death was a crime against me, me personally. I could see Helen's angry sneer as she slapped the pages of her magazine against the table while Mother encouraged me to study medicine, and her bitter denouncement of the amity between us rang in my ears. "I hate this part of you." One night I woke from panicked dreams with the idea that I must find Helen and make her pay for what she had done to me. Then, sweating and cursing in my narrow dorm bed, I remembered that she had denied me that option. My lines came to me and I whispered them into the darkness: That I, the son of a dear father murder'd, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words, And fall a-cursing, like a very drab. I wept, not for Hamlet, who lived just long enough to avenge his father's murder, but for myself.
Meet the Author
VALERIE MARTIN is the author of eight novels, including Trespass, Italian Fever, The Great Divorce, Mary Reilly, and the 2003 Orange Prize-winning Property, and three collections of short fiction.
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I loved this book. Maybe I'm sick of reading celebrity "tell-alls" or formulaic murder mysteries, but "The Confessions of Edward Day" kept me up late at night relishing the vivid imagery, not wanting to put the book down even though I knew I should be sleeping instead. Set largely in the 1970s New York City theatre scene, where working actors struggled to make a living, struggled to figure out their characters and struggled to have personal lives, Edward Day recalls these days when he was in his early 20s as he is present-day looking back on that time. Edward found his calling in college when he decided to major in acting. His friends were also actors who liked to hang out with each other and discuss the current plays and roles available at the time. One weekend Edward and a group of actor friends went away for the weekend to the Jersey shore, where Edward hooked up with the lovely Madeleine, an actress whom he'd had his eye on for some time. Immediately after their initial coupling, Edward decided to take a walk along the pier. While leaning on the railing, debating his future and remembering his recent past, he accidentally fell over the railing into the ocean. Caught in the current, Edward began screaming for help. Luckily, a passerby was able to jump in and save him. When Edward came to on the beach, he realized the man who saved him looked quite familiar. In fact, he rather looked like a version of himself. Edward realized the man was named Guy Margate, another actor whom does look remarkably like Edward. The entire rest of the weekend, and in fact for years to come, Edward and Guy compete for Madeleine's affection, as well as for many roles when they get back to New York. The competition at time fuels Edward, at times emotionally defeats him. Guy never allows Edward to forget the debt which he is owed, and often uses it to get one up on Edward. After the weekend in New Jersey, Edward and Madeleine become a couple. Throughout the years, Edward, Madeleine and Guy come together and drift apart, all the while never far from each others' minds. Success and hardship follow each of the three in different manners. The end of the book delivers the majority of Edward's confessions, told as honestly as he can remember, detailing how they have affected the lives of all three main characters. The story is consuming and does not disappoint. Extremely well-written with the ability to draw the reader in and evoke emotion, this is one of my new favorites and I will definitely be looking into other books by this author.
This fictional memoir surprised and amazed me. Valerie Martin vividly captures the life of an actor in New York in the 1970s. This was a time when actors were clammoring to get in class with Sandy Meisner, Stella Adler, and Uta Hagen, and sat over drinks discussing nothing but their methods, their motivations and their roles. Edward Day takes us on his journey to find truth in his life, and, thus, truth in his acting. Actors are a strange breed, and Valerie Martin gave us as accurate a portrait as one could hope without spilling over into stereotypes or hyperbole. As someone who has poured over Hagen's Respect for Acting, and Meisner's On Acting, it's no mystery why I got completely swept up in The Confessions of Edward Day. I spent a wee bit of time in New York studying acting, and I used to talk with my fellow actors, all of us in awe over New York in the 1970s. Valerie Martin transports us to that time effortlessly. Edward Day is on a quest in search of truth in his acting, which,, according to Stella Adler, he should find in the truth of his life. Every conversation, every gesture, every laugh, and every emotion he has in life, he dissects and files away for use in his work. If that is how he lives his life, how can that be truthful? But this is the life of an actor, narcisistic to the core. Even if you aren't an actor, or don't watch Inside the Actor's Studio, it's fascinating to follow Edward Day from his growing career to his love affairs, with Guy Margate lurking in the wings of both. For the 20+ years of this memoir, Ed is never able to shake Guy, the man who saved his life. At what point is that debt repaid? Beyond the actor's story, this novel is downright dark and creepy, and I loved every minute of it.