My first ever Ethan Hawke read! Of course I’m familiar with his acting (I think Gattaca was my first like oh that’s Ethan Hawke moment?), but A Bright Ray of Darkness was a hell of a way to be introduced to his writing!
A Bright Ray of Darkness is the story of William Harding’s life imploding.
William is a famous movie actor who just got caught cheating on his mega star singer wife with some young woman on location in Cape Town. He returns to New York to perform in Henry IV as Hotspur along side one of the most brilliant stage actors of all time as Falstaff and a very talented but high strung director.
That would be a demanding enough scenario without trying to also balance his kids, the media interfering in his life, crazy parents, random people on the street making his life hell, and a wife who won’t talk to him.
How is a movie star to cope with all this? Alcohol, drugs, and sex of course.
Only William eventually learns the plague of all rock stars; those things only distract from the holes in your life. They don’t fill them. But what would fill them? Is that what he wants?
It’s a wild ride. And I’m not doing the plot any favors by abbreviating it so much, there’s a lot more to it. But it’s a very complex and nuanced book, I couldn’t touch on everything in one post. All of this set against the amazing backdrop of a Shakespeare performance, with all the Bard related language and plot, it’s an amazing commentary on art and life and legacy.
I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant when I read the premise of the story. If I want to read about rich and famous white people creating problems for themselves, I’d reread Tender is the Night. But Hawke is able to tell William’s story so masterfully, it wasn’t like that.
As someone only a handful of years older than Hawke’s daughter, I missed all the Hawke and Uma drama.
And I’m ok with that. I feel no desire to go back and google it and get all in the weeds. I mean this in the nicest way possible, I don’t really care what famous people do. Like, their lives don’t impact mine. I wish them well and don’t want anyone to commit a crime or something, but generally speaking I think celebrity obsession is weird. And can be super unhealthy.
That being said, it was clear based on this book that Hawke has lived through some things and learned a lot. He clearly wrote from a place of experience and perspective that could have been whiny or excusatory or any number of things, but it just came off as an honest look at a human experience.
Not only that, but Hawke’s writing is the perfect blend of short, straightforward and beautiful that makes William’s story realistic and elevated all at once.
So yes, safe to say I liked it. Not in the sense that it was a joyful reading experience. It wasn’t like a barrel of fun, but it was done so well I was compelled forward anyway. Anyone else read any of Hawke’s work? What should I read next?