There's no use pretending this book was written by some unknown guy named Ethan. It's impossible to read ''Ash Wednesday,'' the second novel by the actor Ethan Hawke, without an image of the author hovering over the book in all his familiar guises: playing the morally searching detective in ''Training Day'' or the young romantic in ''Before Sunrise,'' as gossip-column fodder or interview subject quizzed about his marriage to Uma Thurman. If he were just another sincere nobody, the novel would not be receiving a shred of the attention it is. But then this book and his first, ''The Hottest State,'' wouldn't have been subjected to the unusual hostility that has sometimes greeted them either, as if critics were offended that he dared to write at all. There's every reason for skepticism: when celebrities branch out, they often cross a line between ambition and star-driven hubris. The singer Jewel's poetry; enough said.
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The opening chapter of Ethan Hawke's Ash Wednesday is a heart-stopping few pages with male protagonist Jimmy Heartsock thrown head first into a character-defining moment, and it's something he was never supposed to experience. His exchange with the mother of a dead Private leaves him emotionally wounded and physically stunned, laying the groundwork for his role in the story. Jimmy's a guy thrust into real life, and even at the age of 30, he's anything but ready for the responsibilities of manhood.
Enter Christy, the woman Jimmy dumps prior to finding out she's pregnant. After a swift re-evaluation of his life following his tragic experience with the aforementioned mother, he figures he must get Christy back. After all, he loves her and was an idiot for letting her go in the first place. But, he's too late. She is moving back home to escape all that is not working out in her life; including him.
Even so, Jimmy decides he will stop at nothing to rekindle their romance, even it means going AWOL from the army and driving his beat up Chevy from Albany to Fort Worth. Christy, however, just wants to put her New York experience behind her, to raise her child and get on with life before it slips away from her. She's sure it's the right decision. The story of Jimmy and Christy is a simple one -- star-crossed lovers unsure of their own destinies, entering adulthood less than prepared.
What allows Hawke's effort to stand out from the masses of other books on the subject, is his obvious understanding of confused devotion and the havoc it plays on the psyche of the young adult. Growing up can be frightening, one minute we feel fancy-free and ready to take on the world, and the next school is done, work sucks, and the complaints come rolling in that no-one ever told us it was gonna be this tough.
What's tough around the mark is trying to decipher if we have crossed that "adulthood" line, and, if we haven't where is it, and how do we know when we do cross it? Is it an age? A feeling? Or our status as new members of the crowd?
For Jimmy, the line appears for him when he realizes his love of Christy is something more than of the skirt-chasing variety, and for Christy, it's her pregnancy. The two have major boulders to stumble over, and their road-trip together, with eventful stops in Ohio and New Orleans, is their time to throw away their emotional baggage and start fresh. As adults. Because, you know, maybe we cross the line when we realize we're in love, the real kind.
Hawke's grasp of the angst-ridden-and-cynical-but-meant-for-each-other something couple was exhibited in his debut novel, The Hottest State featuring characters remarkable similar to Jimmy and Christy -- William with absent father-issues, less than excited at the idea of growing up and Sarah, the smart and sensual one, odd-looking yet perfect this time with father issues rather than Sarah's mother-issues.
And, also like Sarah and William, Jimmy and Christy, for the most part, are believable and engaging characters. To make them so, Hawke has divided his book into chapters with alternating fist-person narratives -- Jimmy reaches a point in the couple's story before Christy's voice takes over.
It's a simple and cleverly executed idea, with the characters able to give full insight into their own hopes and emotions, and, especially, the way they feel about each other.
Hawke allows the characters to act and react to each other so that the reader clearly knows why they do what they do, and is left to patiently wait for Jimmy and Christy to clue in as well. Hawke's writing style is enjoyably easy. His prose moves deftly back and forth from serious to comic, and his dialogue is often dead-on. Sometimes, he even pulls out a line worthy of highlighter-pen-book-damage, such as this one from Christy:. Though Hawke often expertly captures some charming and lush moments, Ash Wednesday is not supposed to be a great work of literary genius as some of his "But, he's a Hollywood pretty boy!
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Gritty, funny in spots, and largely credible. Actor-director Hawke abandons the New York hipsters of his debut The Hottest State , for a misfit and his girlfriend who try hard to get a grip on adulthood. Bruised and battered, Jimmy Heartsock and his sweetheart Christy have had enough curves thrown at them to strike out a major-league club. Jimmy, whose handsome athletic father went mad and eventually threw himself from a hospital window and whose mother never connected with her oldest son, misspent his high school career, then enlisted in the army and managed to screw that up too.
American ego trip
The opening chapter of Ethan Hawke's Ash Wednesday is a heart-stopping few pages with male protagonist Jimmy Heartsock thrown head first into a character-defining moment, and it's something he was never supposed to experience. His exchange with the mother of a dead Private leaves him emotionally wounded and physically stunned, laying the groundwork for his role in the story. Jimmy's a guy thrust into real life, and even at the age of 30, he's anything but ready for the responsibilities of manhood. Enter Christy, the woman Jimmy dumps prior to finding out she's pregnant. After a swift re-evaluation of his life following his tragic experience with the aforementioned mother, he figures he must get Christy back.
Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke bright young Hollywood star married to Uma Thurman has followed his well-received debut novel, The Hottest State, with a second in which he tackles the thorny question of ego and the modern American male. Talking of which, surely film stardom and marriage to the world's most delectable vamp is enough to keep any young man's ego shiny: does Hawke really have to shoot for literary fame as well? And, tempting as it is to take a pot shot at any golden boy who thrusts his head so far above the parapet, it is my duty to inform you that Hawke is a cracking writer. My guess is that he's read Catcher in the Rye about a zillion times, because his style brings Salinger so much to mind, but there's no escaping the fact that he does it extremely well. Jimmy Heartsock is about to be a dad, though he doesn't know it yet; all he knows is he's about to go down on his knees in a freezing bus station to propose to Christy, the girl he ditched a few days back. Because Jimmy wants to let love into his life; he wants to make a commitment; he wants to get married in church and all that jazz.