I read it, and I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it.
I wasn’t sure I could admit how much I enjoyed a book by Ethan Hawke, at once famous for being a stellar actor and director… and for cheating on Uma Thurman and offering some pretty gross excuses for it! At first, I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes when I learned the book would be about a movie star, fallen from grace for a public, salacious cheating scandal… after all, my allegiance lies with Uma Thurman. I worried this book would be a one sided, boring attempt to rewrite the past. Instead, Hawke surprised me with an insightful novel exploring the art of acting through a flawed but growing character who is determined to rehabilitate himself through Broadway. A book about broadway, in a year after everyone I know has mostly reached the dregs of the streaming platforms, desperate for new movies and TV shows to keep us entertained from the couches we rarely move from, felt nourishing.
William is so self-absorbed it can almost be a bit painful reading from his character’s perspective. But can we actually fault him for thinking the world revolves around him? In fact, his darkest moments were never private and even a taxi driver feels comfortable telling him to his face how angry William’s behavior made him feel. The whole world does seem to care about his every move, right? You might not expect being one of the main characters in a gorgeous stage production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV might teach our character about humility and self awareness. Yet, the backdrop of one of the finest works in the English language with William’s character Hotspur dying one of literature’s most famous deaths, was somehow an exquisite way for us to learn, through William’s eyes, how to stop seeking the world’s approval.
Hawke could also not have picked a more suitable time to release A Bright Ray of Darkness than the year after what appears to be a turning point in the American public’s relationship with celebrity. There was the backlash to a bunch of celebrities singing “Imagine” by John Lennon from their beautiful mansions at the beginning of the pandemic and ignorantly pretending the whole country was somehow experiencing this tragedy in the same way; there was the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary from the New York Times analyzing the grotesque ways the public tore apart that young girl; oh yeah, and our celebrity president lost his election and found himself banned from most social media platforms a few short months later.
I’ve seen people channel their frustration with how unequally our society has had to bear the pandemic’s hardships into exasperation with celebrities lacking the self awareness to see it. At the same time, I’ve seen these people reflect on how our consumption of their day to day dramas is in part to blame for their desire to remain on a pedestal grasping for our attention. Ethan Hawke’s smart look at how he managed to grow despite the world relishing in his failure, with the added bonus of providing some consolation to those of us desperate to see a play again, made A Bright Ray of Darkness a perfectly fun and compelling read.