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Ten Days in the Hills: A Novelby Jane Smiley
"[Smiley] is in top form at adapting literary precedent to her quirky intent....The novel's numerous dialogues crackle with energy — when Smiley's characters speak, whatever their grotesque flaws, we listen....Not only has Smiley skillfully employed Boccaccio in this excellent adventure; she also has her way with the genre of the Hollywood novel....It's an altogether pleasurable — and sobering — experience, the kind Boccaccio himself might instantly recognize." Daniel Born, The Common Review (read the entire Common review)
Synopses & Reviews
A glorious new novel from the Pulitzer Prize winner: a big, smart, bawdy tale of love and war, sex and politics, friendship and betrayal — and the allure of the movies. With Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron as her model, Jane Smiley takes us through ten transformative, unforgettable days in the Hollywood hills.
It is the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards. Max — an Oscar-winning writer/director whose fame has waned — and his lover, Elena, luxuriate in bed, still groggy from last night's red-carpet festivities. They are talking about movies, talking about love, and talking about the war in Iraq, recently begun. But soon their house will be full of guests, and guests like these demand attention. There is Max's ex-wife, "the legendary Zoe Cunningham," a dazzling half-Jamaican movie star, with her new lover, the enigmatic healer, Paul (fraudulent? enlightened?). Max's agent, Stoney, a perhaps too easygoing version of his legendary agent father, can't stay away, and neither can Zoe and Max's daughter, Isabel, though she would prefer to maintain her hard-won independence. And of course there is the next-door neighbor, Cassie, who seems to know everyone's secrets.
As they share their stories of Hollywood past and present, watch films in Max's opulent screening room, gossip by the swimming pool, and tussle in the many bedrooms, the tension mounts, sparks fly, and Smiley delivers an exquisitely woven, virtuosic work — a Hollywood novel as only she could fashion it, told with bravura, rich with delightful characters, spiced with her signature wit. It is a joyful, sexy, and wondrously insightful pleasure.
"Smiley (A Thousand Acres) goes Hollywood in this scintillating tale of an extended Decameron-esque L.A. house party. Gathering at the home of washed-up director Max the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards are his Iraq-obsessed girlfriend, Elena; his movie-diva ex-wife Zoe and her yoga instructor-cum-therapist-cum-boyfriend Paul; Max's insufferably PC daughter, Isabel, and his feckless agent, Stoney, who are conducting a secret affair; Zoe's oracular mother, Delphine; and Max's boyhood friend and token Republican irritant Charlie. They watch movies, negotiate their clashing diets and health regimens, indulge in a roundelay of lasciviously detailed sexual encounters and, most of all, talk — holding absurd, meandering, beguiling conversation about movies, Hollywood, relationships, the war and the state of the world. Through it all, they compulsively reimagine daily life as art: Max dreams of making My Lovemaking with Elena, an all-nude, sexually explicit indie talk-fest inspired by My Dinner with Andre, but Stoney wants him to remake the Cossack epic Taras Bulba. Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet she treats her characters, their concern with compelling surfaces and their perpetual quest to capture reality through artifice, with warmth and seriousness. In their shallowness, she finds a kind of profundity." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A violent war has begun, and a small group of family and friends has taken refuge in a secluded house high in the hills to escape the fighting. Actually, they are hoping to escape news of the fighting. They're in southern California. The fighting is in the Middle East. But most of them don't approve of the conflict, and, besides, the house where they've holed up has a pool and a terrific room... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) in which to watch movies. It's March 2003, and the war in Iraq has just begun. Such is the backdrop for Jane Smiley's new novel, 'Ten Days in the Hills,' a work modeled in part on Boccaccio's 'Decameron.' Instead of fleeing the plague, however, the ensemble in Smiley's book is hoping to exist for a short while in a world free of newspapers, television and reports from the front — distant as that front is. They have withdrawn the night after the Academy Awards to the home of a 58-year-old movie director named Max, 'a mansion that cascaded down a mountainside in Pacific Palisades, looked across Will Rogers Memorial Park at the Getty Museum, and had five bedrooms, a guesthouse, and a swimming pool down the mountainside (three flights of stairs) that caught the morning sun.' And then there are the gardens. Moreover, this is only the first of two homes — the second so palatial that it makes Max's place look like a shabby bungalow near LAX — in which the pilgrims will take shelter. In those mansions, they will tell stories about their lives and their beliefs, and they will forge new friendships and alliances (some sexual, some political). Among the group? There is Max's girlfriend, Elena, an articulate and impassioned opponent of the war who writes self-help books. There is his best friend from childhood, Charlie, newly separated from his wife and hoping to rejuvenate himself with a regimen of vitamin pills he both pops and sells. Charlie supports the war wholeheartedly. There is Max's first wife, the exquisitely beautiful movie star Zoe Cunningham, with whom Max is still friends, and Zoe's new lover, an unflappable holistic therapist (and, perhaps, charlatan). There is Max and Zoe's 23-year-old daughter, Isabel, and Max's agent, Stoney — who is the son of Max's original agent, who has died of cancer. Stoney and Isabel have been on-again, off-again lovers since Isabel was 16 and might now be willing to allow their clandestine romance to become both public and serious, despite the reality that Stoney is 15 years older than Isabel. Rounding out the group are Zoe's mother, her mother's great friend, and Elena's son, a halfhearted college student but an exuberant, uninhibited and insatiable lover. In the course of 10 days, Smiley allows us to watch the characters change and grow — or, in some cases, not grow. Since this is Hollywood, one of the tale's more illicit pleasures is the way everyone frames everything in terms of a film: actual movies and the fictional ones that Smiley concocts (including my personal favorite, 'Aloha, Topper,' a sequel to the 1937 Cary Grant/Constance Bennett film about a couple of fun-loving ghosts, moved now to Hawaii). But there must be a hundred actual movies referenced as well, so that, for example, when Stoney is ruminating about what a terrible actress Zoe is, he thinks, 'She was ... the sort of actress who moved twenty facial muscles in preference to two, and so he couldn't watch any of her movies — she always seemed to him to be bursting off the screen, like the monsters in 'Alien.' Meanwhile, Max is trying to decide whether his next project should be a remake of 'Taras Bulba,' which a group of wealthy Russians wants to finance, or a small homage to love at midlife, which he would call, 'My Lovemaking with Elena.' The first idea would be a massive epic filmed partly on location in Ukraine. The second would be an intimate movie with only two actors, a film Max envisions as 'My Dinner with Andre' but with sex. Occasionally, Smiley's use of the war in Iraq feels extraneous, such as when Max and Elena attribute his sudden impotence to the news from the Middle East. Moreover, some of her attempts to remind readers of 'The Decameron' are a tad heavy-handed, including the group's lengthy discussion of 'The Seventh Seal,' Ingmar Bergman's classic film about one man's chess match against Death in the midst of the plague. But Smiley has her tongue firmly in her cheek and uncharacteristic patience with the superficialities and self-importance of her Hollywood movers and shakers. There may be scenes here that should have wound up on the cutting room floor, but what tale from Tinseltown can't use a little editing? By the time the final credits were rolling, I was more enamored of Smiley's players than I was annoyed, and when the lights came up — excuse me, when I closed the book — I was grateful for the time I had spent with them in their sheltered and sumptuous little world. Chris Bohjalian is the author of 10 novels, including 'Midwives' and 'The Double Bind,' which was just published." Reviewed by Chris Bohjalian, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Each thorny character has an intriguing backstory, feelings run high, and Smiley is regally omnipotent as she advocates for art, objects to war, and considers tricky questions of power and spirit, love and compassion. Archly sexy and brilliant." Booklist
"Smiley has put herself on the edge....Ten Days in the Hills achieves a kindred richness." John Updike, the New Yorker
"The parade of stories has no evident thematic unity, and the characters are frequently irritating....A couple of touching moments toward the end can't redeem this surprising misstep from one of our most gifted novelists." Kirkus Reviews
"Smiley forges a blazing farce, a fiery satire of contemporary celebrity culture and a rich, simmering meditation on the price of war and fame and desire." Los Angeles Times
"The reader segues from leering voyeurism to that milder state, companionship, thrilled with such a panorama of foibles, blunders, egos and insights." Miami Herald
"A rich meditation on love, war and Hollywood." Charlotte Observer
"Ms. Smiley is capable of delving into her characters' hearts and minds....
"These characters are so listless that the reader loses hope. There will be no discoveries and no confrontations. Being trapped for hundreds of pages in which everybody talks but nothing happens, or will happen, can make a person cranky." Hartford Courant
"The beauty of Smiley's garrulous new novel is that it sublimates polemics in a breezy narrative upon which she has liberally bestowed her trademark gifts." Elle
"[S]ly and sexy....[A] satirical frolic reminiscent of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's Moo, though here with more emphasis on Eros than academe. Recommended." Library Journal
About the Author
Jane Smiley is the author of eight previous works of fiction, including The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary Love & Good Will, A Thousand Acres (which won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize), and Moo. She lives in northern California.
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