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The Confessions of Edward Day: A Novel by…
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The Confessions of Edward Day: A Novel

by Valerie Martin

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The 'confessions' are a pseudo-memoir, by an author exploring acting from from the outside. All the more impressive, then, that actors and critics have treated the book with respect. It has been widely reviewed, attracting some eminent commentary, particularly in relation to its setting – 1970s Broadway – and insights into the acting profession.

As usual, Valerie Martin walks around her topic 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 by him on stage. Guy has a gift for mimicry, but 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.

Early on in the novel 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 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. He tries to disorient Edward through moments of phony 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 shows 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 nocturnal 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 relations. 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. ( )
  Notesmusings | May 25, 2013 |
I found myself somewhat perplexed, though highly entertained, by this book. It's the story of an actor in the 1970s, his career on the stage and his friendships within the theater community, as well as a deeply antagonistic relationship with a disturbed doppelganger who saves him from drowning early on. While the tension of the relationship between Edward and Guy, a kind of manifestation of his baser self, is what drives the plot of the novel, much has been made among reviewers of the way in which Martin creates effectively the world of 1970s NYC theater. Yes, she does that, but I was hoping for a little more discussion of technique, rehearsal, the actual feeling of being onstage, than is here. Martin is more interested in the ways in which being an actor both causes and results from a deep, unrelenting narcissism, and how that manifests itself in perpetually self-obsessed behavior in one's personal life. There's nothing wrong with this as a project, but I suppose I was somewhat disappointed not to get more time with Edward on the stage than in a bar.

Regardless, the plot of this subtle, taught novel is compelling until the final page, and it's a highly enjoyable, thought-provoking read. ( )
  KatieANYC | Apr 2, 2013 |
She is awesome! ( )
  picardyrose | May 31, 2011 |
An interesting character study and a glimpse into the not-so-glamorous world of the working theater actor. I appreciate the intelligence of Martin's prose and would also recommend her earlier novel, Trespass. ( )
  booksinthebelfrey | Mar 11, 2010 |
Written in the style of an intimate memoir, The Confessions of Edward Day delves into the daily lives of a group of struggling stage actors living in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. Edward Day is the first person narrator and the undeniable star of this novel. As his career unfolds, we follow Ed through acting school, numerous auditions and call-backs, conflicts with friends and family, and even a summer season spent in a Vermont theater company. Throughout it all, Ed makes the most of the insignificant parts he lands, always hoping for the next big break and waiting tables between shows to pay his rent.

Through the engaging and honest voice of Ed Day, Valerie Martin writes with authority about the uncertain and stressful world of stage actors. Indeed, Martin so successfully inhabits the life and voice of Ed Day that she all but disappears from view. Ed’s charisma and motivation drive the action, most of which centers around a complicated love triangle and Ed’s ongoing power struggle with a rival actor. With this quick-paced and intelligent novel, Martin delivers a riveting look inside the psyche of an actor.

This review also appears on my blog Literary License. ( )
1 vote gwendolyndawson | Mar 3, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
“Edward Day” might finally bring Martin the recognition she deserves. Her previous novel, “Trespass,” which explored a suburban woman’s distrust of her son’s refugee lover, was a richer book. But “Edward Day” has its deep pleasures, particularly in the ingenious way Martin probes the sensibility of an artist while using it as a prism through which to tell a tale.
 
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My mother liked to say Freud should have been strangled in his crib.
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Set in the world of 1970s Manhatten theatre, The Confessions follows aspiring thesp Edward Day, his friends and associates, as they re-assess ideas of sexuality, duty and gratitude - and the wisdom of living as a jobbing actor. After Edward Day joins fellow actors for a summer weekend on the New Jersey Shore, his life is never the same again. He is saved from drowning by the mysterious Guy Margate, a man with whom he shares both a marked physical resemblance and an implacable attraction to the beautiful, talented, neurotic Madeleine Delavergne. Ever after, in spooky encounters provoked by envy and resentment, Edward is torn between his desire for Madeleine and his indebtedness to the querulous Guy. Professional and personal jealousies come to a head when Edward is cast opposite Madeleine in an acclaimed production of Uncle Vanya, their respective roles painfully mirroring the reality of their personal situations. As the sexual tensions of the play spill over outside the theatre walls, Guy - Edward's reluctant saviour and now Madeleine's husband - makes the ultimate act of protest.
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New York, in the 1970s: rents were cheap, love was free, and the explosion of theater venues off and off-off Broadway afforded aspiring actors the opportunity to work for nothing. After Edward Day joins his fellow actors for a summer weekend on the Jersey shore, his life is never the same.… (more)

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