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The first novel in nearly twenty years from the acclaimed actor/writer/director is a book about art and love, fame and heartbreak--a blistering story of a young man making his Broadway debut in Henry IV just as his marriage implodes. A bracing meditation on fame and celebrity, and the redemptive, healing power of art; a portrait of the ravages of disappointment and divorce; The first novel in nearly twenty years from the acclaimed actor/writer/director is a book about art and love, fame and heartbreak--a blistering story of a young man making his Broadway debut in Henry IV just as his marriage implodes. A bracing meditation on fame and celebrity, and the redemptive, healing power of art; a portrait of the ravages of disappointment and divorce; a poignant consideration of the rites of fatherhood and manhood; a novel soaked in rage and sex, longing and despair; and a passionate love letter to the world of theater, A Bright Ray of Darkness showcases Ethan Hawke's gifts as a novelist as never before. Hawke's narrator is a young man in torment, disgusted with himself after the collapse of his marriage, still half-hoping for a reconciliation that would allow him to forgive himself and move on as he clumsily, and sometimes hilariously, tries to manage the wreckage of his personal life with whiskey and sex. What saves him is theater: in particular, the challenge of performing the role of Hotspur in a production of Henry IV under the leadership of a brilliant director, helmed by one of the most electrifying--and narcissistic--Falstaff's of all time. Searing, raw, and utterly transfixing, A Bright Ray of Darkness is a novel about shame and beauty and faith, and the moral power of art.


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The first novel in nearly twenty years from the acclaimed actor/writer/director is a book about art and love, fame and heartbreak--a blistering story of a young man making his Broadway debut in Henry IV just as his marriage implodes. A bracing meditation on fame and celebrity, and the redemptive, healing power of art; a portrait of the ravages of disappointment and divorce; The first novel in nearly twenty years from the acclaimed actor/writer/director is a book about art and love, fame and heartbreak--a blistering story of a young man making his Broadway debut in Henry IV just as his marriage implodes. A bracing meditation on fame and celebrity, and the redemptive, healing power of art; a portrait of the ravages of disappointment and divorce; a poignant consideration of the rites of fatherhood and manhood; a novel soaked in rage and sex, longing and despair; and a passionate love letter to the world of theater, A Bright Ray of Darkness showcases Ethan Hawke's gifts as a novelist as never before. Hawke's narrator is a young man in torment, disgusted with himself after the collapse of his marriage, still half-hoping for a reconciliation that would allow him to forgive himself and move on as he clumsily, and sometimes hilariously, tries to manage the wreckage of his personal life with whiskey and sex. What saves him is theater: in particular, the challenge of performing the role of Hotspur in a production of Henry IV under the leadership of a brilliant director, helmed by one of the most electrifying--and narcissistic--Falstaff's of all time. Searing, raw, and utterly transfixing, A Bright Ray of Darkness is a novel about shame and beauty and faith, and the moral power of art.

30 review for A Bright Ray of Darkness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Finally, a novel about the travails of a successful White guy! What could pull the heartstrings of our afflicted nation tighter than a story of brief, emotional setback suffered by a handsome movie star? Ethan Hawke has got a lot of nerve. But he’s also got a lot of talent. The actor and director, who made his screen debut at 15, has published several books during his acclaimed Hollywood career, and he recently produced and starred in a spectacular TV adaptation of James McBride’s “The Good Lord Bi Finally, a novel about the travails of a successful White guy! What could pull the heartstrings of our afflicted nation tighter than a story of brief, emotional setback suffered by a handsome movie star? Ethan Hawke has got a lot of nerve. But he’s also got a lot of talent. The actor and director, who made his screen debut at 15, has published several books during his acclaimed Hollywood career, and he recently produced and starred in a spectacular TV adaptation of James McBride’s “The Good Lord Bird.” But Hawke is also known as the man who cheated on Uma Thurman and offered loutish excuses about the sexual needs of great men like Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and him. Now, some 15 years after all that cosmic embarrassment, Hawke has published a novel called “A Bright Ray of Darkness.” It’s about a young movie star who got caught cheating on his stunningly gorgeous wife. This recycled gossip is tiresome, but what’s most irritating about “A Bright Ray of Darkness” is that it’s really good. If you can ignore the author’s motive for creating such a sensitive and endearing cad, you’ll find here a novel that explores the demands of acting and the delusions of manhood with tremendous verve and insight. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mooney

    Only a rich movie star could get away with this. Ethan Hawke really has got some fuckin balls, writing a novel in 2021 about the plight of the wealthy white man. But, God, it's good. Ethan Hawke is an author. Yes, yes, yes, I know he's actually an actor. A very fine actor. A twice Oscar-nominated actor (he has two Oscar nominations for writing, too). But he is also, without doubt, an author. That's about as good a compliment as you can pay to anyone switching crafts like this. He's an artist, if y Only a rich movie star could get away with this. Ethan Hawke really has got some fuckin balls, writing a novel in 2021 about the plight of the wealthy white man. But, God, it's good. Ethan Hawke is an author. Yes, yes, yes, I know he's actually an actor. A very fine actor. A twice Oscar-nominated actor (he has two Oscar nominations for writing, too). But he is also, without doubt, an author. That's about as good a compliment as you can pay to anyone switching crafts like this. He's an artist, if you will. This is no vanity project; it's a proper, high-quality novel. Hawke is exactly the right person to give us an insight into the craft of acting and the realities of fame - his narrator is a movie star who, just as his marriage is falling apart, is poised to make his Broadway debut. The only actor in the production not traditionally trained, he is desperate not to appear as a ticket pull for tourists. At the same time, he's drinking too much, fearful of losing his kids and stumbling from one damaging sexual encounter to the next. What we get is a subtle and realistic character arc as William starts to grow up, both professionally and personally. He starts to take some responsibility for himself but, more than that, sees himself for who he is once the narcissism is stripped away. A very impressive novel. I hope this isn't just a one off. He's got it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This is one of those novels, upon reading the first pages, I was completely caught up in the life of the protagonist. It's a gift to be able to write and reach someone that way. It's a treasure to be lost in a story where time seems to stop. Very much like the the creative process itself, I found flow. This is one of those novels, upon reading the first pages, I was completely caught up in the life of the protagonist. It's a gift to be able to write and reach someone that way. It's a treasure to be lost in a story where time seems to stop. Very much like the the creative process itself, I found flow.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    4.5, rounded down. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Hawke is at least as accomplished a writer as he is an actor, since this is his fifth published novel, and he's been nominated for two Oscars for his screenwriting efforts. But I had never read any of his earlier works, so was pleasantly amazed at just how excellent this book is. At least some of it is autobiographical, since this circles around a production of Shakespeare's Henry IV in which 32 y. o. protagonist, bad boy film actor William 4.5, rounded down. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Hawke is at least as accomplished a writer as he is an actor, since this is his fifth published novel, and he's been nominated for two Oscars for his screenwriting efforts. But I had never read any of his earlier works, so was pleasantly amazed at just how excellent this book is. At least some of it is autobiographical, since this circles around a production of Shakespeare's Henry IV in which 32 y. o. protagonist, bad boy film actor William Harding is making his Broadway debut as Hotspur - and Hawke himself essayed the role in an acclaimed production at Lincoln Center at the same age. The other thread involves Harding's disintegrating marriage to his beautiful and acclaimed pop star wife - and Hawke was going through a painful divorce with HIS superstar wife Uma Thurman at the same time also. One hopes all the bad behavior of Harding is NOT based on fact, but most probably SOME of it is. But not everything seems based on real life - the Falstaff in the book is a blowhard actor named Virgil who is immensely fat ... and bears few traces of Kevin Kline, who played it in Hawke's own 2003 production. Likewise, his Lady Percy was the estimable Audra McDonald, and she doesn't seem to fit her fictional counterpart here also. But there is more to the book than just separating fact from fiction. This is an honest to god page turner that benefits from Hawke's insider knowledge of what goes into putting on a major production, and contains some wise and world-weary contemplations on both the profession and being human in general, My minor quibble is that such philosophizing, especially in the final section, gets a might ponderous at times, and I would have liked much more on the rehearsal period - as it is, the book jumps from first rehearsal to opening preview, and since it is a short novel (199 pages), could well have been padded out with details on that missing period. Be that as it may, I thoroughly enjoyed Hawke's tome, and am tempted to read at least some of his backlist.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Beverly

    Ethan Hawke's newest novel is a deep exploration of the philosophical thoughts of a sensitive man. It's about an actor, William, who is performing in Shakepeare's Henry IV on Broadway. He typically does movies, but he's determined to show that he's a "real" actor with real depth. But at the same time, his marriage is falling apart. From the rehearsals to performances to the teardown, we see William in the show and learning in life. It's no doubt that Ethan Hawke has real talent as a writer - my Ethan Hawke's newest novel is a deep exploration of the philosophical thoughts of a sensitive man. It's about an actor, William, who is performing in Shakepeare's Henry IV on Broadway. He typically does movies, but he's determined to show that he's a "real" actor with real depth. But at the same time, his marriage is falling apart. From the rehearsals to performances to the teardown, we see William in the show and learning in life. It's no doubt that Ethan Hawke has real talent as a writer - my only question now is how much is fact and how much is fiction?? I doubt we'll ever truly know. But it's a fantastic read that gave me a lot of food for thought.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Ethan Hawke. If that's his real name, it's a cool one. As for his movies, looking over the bio, I think I've seen only one: Dead Poets Society. And I only remember two actors from that movie -- Robin Williams as the teacher standing on the desk and the kid who ultimately offs himself at the end (tall, thin, dark haired, and most certainly not Ethan Hawke). So why did I pick up this book? Ron Charles, Washington Post, assuring his readers it's much better than average. I don't know about the much Ethan Hawke. If that's his real name, it's a cool one. As for his movies, looking over the bio, I think I've seen only one: Dead Poets Society. And I only remember two actors from that movie -- Robin Williams as the teacher standing on the desk and the kid who ultimately offs himself at the end (tall, thin, dark haired, and most certainly not Ethan Hawke). So why did I pick up this book? Ron Charles, Washington Post, assuring his readers it's much better than average. I don't know about the much part, and I'm even iffy on the better part, but not a total loss, and, Hey Mikey! I finished! (That's LIFE.) It's about an actor (well, duh) performing Shakespeare (Henry IV) on Broadway as he is coming off a divorce to a big-time pop singer. He drinks, does drugs, feels sorry for himself, has two kids he loves, feels insecure about his stagework (he's a movie guy), and cheats on his soon-to-be ex-wife. Where do you find stories like THAT? Right. National Enquirer and on the cameras of the nearest paparazzi. So what's to like here? Mostly the insight into what it's like to be an actor, especially on the stage, especially putting up with other giant egos like your own (if you're an actor). Enough -- just -- to keep turning pages. And what's not so much to like? Mostly the clichés of an actor's life. And a few writer clichés to boot. Like guy is ridiculously famous, guy gets girl(s) -- all of them -- guy feels sorry for himself while he struggles with fortune's whims (love-hate relationship with fame, struggles with domestic life, mostly), and guy talks about how rough it is to be roguishly handsome and 180 pounds of muscle. Another problem? Two kids who are worse than precocious in their dialogue. Oh. And the amount of advice on life and love and acting. Really. This guy has more Yoda-figures in his life than most of us have Chewbacca-figures on our hardwood floors (rug burn joke). It came across like Ethan Hawke, author, has a lot of deep thoughts and decided to "hide" his wisdom in multiple side characters (who sounded similar), hoping we wouldn't notice how deep he is (hiding, not so well, behind the arras). A final plaint: The wheels come off a bit 3/4s through when random characters (e.g. Dad) who've barely been mentioned suddenly get dropped into the narrative so they can eat up 20-30 pp. Why bother? But still, I liked all the Shakespeare. And what life was like for auditioning, memorizing, practicing, performing, etc. Clearly Hawke knows of what he writes in that case and, for this book, there's the rub (read: value). If you read it, take it for what it is. Lights, action, READ! Only don't forget the "light" part refers to "light reading," which has its merits. Not everything you read should be Henry IV, after all.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    5+ out of 5, I was almost ready to give it a 6 and call it one of my all-time faves except for a few really truly glaring moments of mediocre prose. But holy moly. This book is astounding in its ability to capture the visceral realities of being onstage and performing, particularly Shakespeare. The story is that of a typical White Male Fuck-Up Novel: 32-year-old movie star has slept with someone not-his-wife, and his wife (a Gaga/Beyonce-level pop star) is now leaving him as the tabloids tear him 5+ out of 5, I was almost ready to give it a 6 and call it one of my all-time faves except for a few really truly glaring moments of mediocre prose. But holy moly. This book is astounding in its ability to capture the visceral realities of being onstage and performing, particularly Shakespeare. The story is that of a typical White Male Fuck-Up Novel: 32-year-old movie star has slept with someone not-his-wife, and his wife (a Gaga/Beyonce-level pop star) is now leaving him as the tabloids tear him apart. And he's making his Broadway debut in an almost-four-ish-hour HENRY IV. The way Hawke writes William's performances, the way he engages with the text and depicts so cannily how it feels to be onstage and have the world in your hand -- the way that the world, in fact, recedes as you step fully into the character, the way that your scene partners can respond to you and change what it is you are doing for the better... gosh, it is something spectacular. And then the rest of the book, the moments outside of the theater scenes, are mainly one-on-one interactions or conversations between William and other people: other actors, his former best friend, women he picks up. There's definitely some male fantasy stuff happening re: the women in this book and there are problems to pick at this -- but also, the relationship particularly between William and the woman playing Lady Percy speaks to a depth of understanding about showmances that people outside of the theater can't ever really comprehend. I don't know what to say except that I could ramble on forever. This book spoke searingly, brighly and darkly, right to my core. I loved it, flaws and all, just like I still (it turns out) love the theater.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    I read his debut The Hottest State when it first came out and loved it so much that it's one of the few books I've actually spent time re-reading. I Haven't read anything of his since, but something about this one called to me. I'm not sure what it was exactly, because the thought of reading a book about an actor starring in his first broadway play, doing Shakespeare of all things, while in the midst of a third-life crisis, didn't sound super up my alley. But DAYUM people. Ethan Hawke narrates t I read his debut The Hottest State when it first came out and loved it so much that it's one of the few books I've actually spent time re-reading. I Haven't read anything of his since, but something about this one called to me. I'm not sure what it was exactly, because the thought of reading a book about an actor starring in his first broadway play, doing Shakespeare of all things, while in the midst of a third-life crisis, didn't sound super up my alley. But DAYUM people. Ethan Hawke narrates the audiobook and it's pretty fucking stellar. Dude can write! (also... this is the second time in as many weeks that I've read a novel written by a celebrity and I promise this is not a norm for me, lol)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Circe Link

    Passion! Poetry! Punchlines! Pussy! Holy literary pugilism Batman! I’m not gonna say the book isn’t entertaining ‘cause it is, but man-oh-man I wish EH would get out of his own way. There are some brilliant moments about art/acting and partnering/parenting that are honest and touching, but the rambling oft cocaine fueled monologues felt self conscious and the sex scenes actually made me angry, I’ll never forget “…her arms were so thin” Ugh. Is this a memoir or fiction or just a tug of war betwee Passion! Poetry! Punchlines! Pussy! Holy literary pugilism Batman! I’m not gonna say the book isn’t entertaining ‘cause it is, but man-oh-man I wish EH would get out of his own way. There are some brilliant moments about art/acting and partnering/parenting that are honest and touching, but the rambling oft cocaine fueled monologues felt self conscious and the sex scenes actually made me angry, I’ll never forget “…her arms were so thin” Ugh. Is this a memoir or fiction or just a tug of war between the two with the occasional punch in the face of sexual aggression? Those questions left me scratching my head, and turning pages.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    Just wanted to notate some of the quotes from this book I particularly enjoyed. "When you finish a movie, they always forget to call you a car. When you are starting a movie, everything runs perfectly--town cars, hotel rooms, per diem--but once the film ends they couldn't give a shit." "I'd forgotten what a kiss was like; I'd forgotten what it wwas like to hold someone who wanted to be held; who wanted you to launch your hnd up under her skirt; who was hpoing you would reach a little bit further; Just wanted to notate some of the quotes from this book I particularly enjoyed. "When you finish a movie, they always forget to call you a car. When you are starting a movie, everything runs perfectly--town cars, hotel rooms, per diem--but once the film ends they couldn't give a shit." "I'd forgotten what a kiss was like; I'd forgotten what it wwas like to hold someone who wanted to be held; who wanted you to launch your hnd up under her skirt; who was hpoing you would reach a little bit further; push a little harder; someone who made little noises. Now, I'm smart enough to know that blind pursuit of these kinds of shenanigans doesn't lead you to any kind of authentic, substantive, enlightened existence. I guess I know that. I mean, maybe I know that. Or I should say I had long held that to be true, but in that moment, I would have rather died--had a bullet zip right through my cerebral cortex and my blood splash out onto the asphalt--thn let go of that girl's hand. She felt like an instrument of the Divine." "I learned quickly of the power, the absolute nuclear power, of the deceit attached to any kind of storytelling." "I gathered that all my cast mates were weak-minded morons who spent the night online reading about our show. They were not the blue-jumpsuit-fucking Zen monk that I was." "Shakespeare could do anything with words. You are not more intelligent than he--so don't try to fix his writing. Try to understand it. If the language is clumsy or contradictory--consider why? Every word was deliberately chosen. Trust me."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Yukari Watanabe

    I didn't know that Ethan Hawke could write such a beautiful novel. I was throughly impressed. The protagonist (who reminds you of the author himself) is almost comically self-centered and self-absorbed. And he is aware of it. That makes it difficult for you to hate this miserable human being. Hawke knows how to make characters manipulate each other and, by doing so, the readers. And I enjoyed being manipulated. It was so much fun to read this novel. BTW, he is still an a**. But he can definitely I didn't know that Ethan Hawke could write such a beautiful novel. I was throughly impressed. The protagonist (who reminds you of the author himself) is almost comically self-centered and self-absorbed. And he is aware of it. That makes it difficult for you to hate this miserable human being. Hawke knows how to make characters manipulate each other and, by doing so, the readers. And I enjoyed being manipulated. It was so much fun to read this novel. BTW, he is still an a**. But he can definitely write.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Danny Hensel

    Interview with Ethan Hawke coming to Weekend Edition Sunday in a few weeks.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris Haak

    I had never read a novel by Ethan Hawke (I only know him as an actor and director), so I was curious to find out if he could really write as well. Luckily he can. 'A Bright Ray of darkness' is an honest novel about a film actor who's now doing a Shakespeare play on Broadway and about his marriage falling apart. He feels insecure about acting and guilty and disgusted by himself for making a mess of his marriage. A very enthralling novel about acting, theatre, Shakespeare, love, marriage, sex, div I had never read a novel by Ethan Hawke (I only know him as an actor and director), so I was curious to find out if he could really write as well. Luckily he can. 'A Bright Ray of darkness' is an honest novel about a film actor who's now doing a Shakespeare play on Broadway and about his marriage falling apart. He feels insecure about acting and guilty and disgusted by himself for making a mess of his marriage. A very enthralling novel about acting, theatre, Shakespeare, love, marriage, sex, divorce, parenthood and growth. Thank you Random House and Edelweiss for the ARC.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Jacobs

    "I've been thinking alot about heaven. What happens to us when we die? I thought alot about it watching your show tonight. What will we all do in heaven? I think about eternity and then I think about when you called me when you were 18 and asked me for money to go to  theatre school...I know I wasn't supportive and i'm sorry...It wasnt that I didn't believe in you. I didn't believe in acting, you know? I really just  didn't think you could make a living, but then watching all those actors tonigh "I've been thinking alot about heaven. What happens to us when we die? I thought alot about it watching your show tonight. What will we all do in heaven? I think about eternity and then I think about when you called me when you were 18 and asked me for money to go to  theatre school...I know I wasn't supportive and i'm sorry...It wasnt that I didn't believe in you. I didn't believe in acting, you know? I really just  didn't think you could make a living, but then watching all those actors tonight, how wonderful they all were, and I started thinking about how ive dedicated my life - the insurance  business, you know? It's funny, but there will be no need for insurance in heaven - none at all - and there will be so much need for poetry and songs and jokes. People will value what you've learned. It doesnt matter if you can make a living. Shakespeare will be important. You will be so valuable, William!" A novel this self-indulgent has no business being so great. One of the best books about acting I've ever read. Goddamnit I miss being on stage.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cristina

    “My mad hopefulness was part of my illness. My outlook was so consistently off kilter, like when you are smashed by an ocean wave and don’t know which direction to find the sky and wind uplifting your head into the sandy bottom of the sea.” * * * “People are always all so much more strange than I first imagine.” * * * If the paradoxical title of Ethan Hawke’s latest novel is any indication, A Bright Ray of Darkness (2021) is about the complexity of a man coming to terms with the various pieces of h “My mad hopefulness was part of my illness. My outlook was so consistently off kilter, like when you are smashed by an ocean wave and don’t know which direction to find the sky and wind uplifting your head into the sandy bottom of the sea.” * * * “People are always all so much more strange than I first imagine.” * * * If the paradoxical title of Ethan Hawke’s latest novel is any indication, A Bright Ray of Darkness (2021) is about the complexity of a man coming to terms with the various pieces of himself, those pieces often contradictory. Sometimes, those pieces are daggers and he stabs himself. Our narrator-protagonist is an actor, father, husband, playboy, and aspiring Artiste. By the latter, I mean William Harding seeks not just to work in a creative medium but to craft works that are meaningful and hold fast to the solid ground of posterity—or can be hooked to the firmament as fixedly as literary titan William Shakespeare, an icon who even shares our protagonist’s first name. That William’s first foray onto Broadway is a Shakespearean production—the momentous and ambitious Henry IV (he’s playing Hotspur)—is also pivotal. The Hollywood star must prove himself as a theatre actor: and someone who can hold his own in a large ensemble, who can hook himself neatly to his acting predecessors who’ve done The Bard justice, and who can ensnare the ears and eyes of Broadway. He struggles to leave behind a past life of tabloid gossips and Hollywood glamour and to prove himself a worthy, serious actor—but is borne back ceaselessly into his own past due to unresolved issues with his estranged and beloved rock star wife on whom he’s cheated; his religious father; and even his own children who remind him of past, present, and future responsibilities. Fatherhood is the only stable anchor in his life. It offers slices of an endearing, thoughtful, and tender William. Yet, is it sufficient? It is tempting to read and interpret A Bright Ray of Darkness—as a roman à clef. It is hard not only to forget that a multiple-Oscar-nominee and stunning performer on stage, screen, and television is writing this. It is also hard not to think about the author’s sullied past. Especially since the novel dives headfirst into immoral and questionable choices that parallel Hawke’s own life and is also peppered with some backstory about William that echoes the writer’s own biography, it’s all but impossible to simply read ABRoD blindly. You’d have to cut the author’s name off the cover, spine, and front and back matter. But I like that it’s a challenge to separate author and speaker, the flawed and talented human being and the flawed and eager narrator clutching at something beyond his reach—and maybe because he’s not always sure what it is he seeks. William is not easily likeable: it is difficult to sympathize with him when, decision after decision, he gets himself in unsafe, misogynistic, unhealthy, and vain situations. But a character does not have to be likeable to attract readers. It helps that ABRoD is written in first-person because it is easier to suspend our judgment at times and try to see William as the broken, confused, starving (literally and metaphorically) working artist and father. Truly, as F. Scott Fitzgerald so astutely notes, “[r]eserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” I kept hoping William could turn things around. Endlessly, he crawls further into the darkness of himself and too-often lustful pursuits. I wanted to shake him awake and turn him towards the light of reason and rationality, but maybe that, too, is blinding. He seems incapable of simply living, which prevents him from finding meaningful balance, for long stretches, in life. There are (somewhat absurd, somewhat funny) moments where his five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son sound more enlightened, more bighearted and brave, than he is. Perhaps the hyperbole is intentional—William’s way of poking fun of his shortcomings. At least he’s raising philosophical children ready for graduate school! The moments William can laugh at himself, or explain his ludicrous ideas—like wanting anesthesia-free surgery so he can perform a matinee of Henry IV, to students he believes will be brokenhearted if he misses the performance, putting art before health…and vanity before reason—are most enjoyable in ABRoD. Nonetheless, we still do not forget the multiple sides of William Harding, for better or worse. He is a hypocrite, a cheater, and a human being aware of his mistakes but doing too little to change himself. Maybe he’s afraid. Maybe he doesn’t know how to begin. Giving up smoking would be a start, as one of his mentors reminds, but even that seems too large a change for William at this point where he craves comforts too heedlessly. He’s living in a hotel like some sort of has-been, and while he does his best to make it homey—bunk-beds for the kids, a tub for their baths, a puppy—his lack of a permanent address only reinforces William as a transient figure in his own life. I do think, particularly by the end of the novel, that he seems more aware of what he must do to climb out of the murk and muster himself back to street level. It is only on stage when he feels more alive and vibrant—and that’s a sad truth for an actor. He’s more comfortable being someone he isn’t than himself. And he certainly seeks and gets unsolicited advice from a slew of people. ABRoD is, at least partly-so, a novel in which William lives and works and plays (too hard!) in New York City and finds himself on the receiving end of everyone from Brigitte Bardot-lookalikes to aging playwrights to ex-jailbird-turned-actors to Southern strippers to his estranged father and cocaine-using mother to even his young children. Sometimes, he ruminates upon advice. Sometimes, he does drugs or chugs alcohol like it’s water. A Bright Ray of Darkness shines light on the various corners and angles of William Harding. We find the William studying the image of God and his Son on the ceiling above his bed, half-disbelieving yet half hoping in some intangible thing. The William triggered often to childhood memories of trying to create his own image as a cool “Blue Jean Kid” or falling in love with movies or stressing over the end of his parents’ marriage. It is clear he is a grown man with unresolved issues, anger, and apprehension. He desires to prove himself worthy and loved. Consequently, he throws himself into raunchy and even brutal sex. It’s empty as the calories in the vending machine ice cream sandwiches he downs once Hotspur is dead and off-stage. I prefer the reflective, listening William who sits with a veteran star in his dressing room and polishes off that ice cream sandwich like each lick will bring him closer to wisdom, the William still clad in Hotspur’s leather costume, an edgy try-hard, an overgrown child who is vulnerable but dressed for protection. It’s a façade—but we know it then. This is the William who feels truest: the 32-year-old man-child as trapped by what came before and what comes next as a member of the Lost Generation. We thought we’d outgrown this, as a society. We were wrong. Speaking of being “trapped” or framed into a life that is a stage as much as the actual stage of the Lyceum, there are a few telling literary allusions sprinkled throughout the novel. Of course, adulterer William is likened to Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter. The irony is that perhaps the scarlet “A” he wears is that of “Artist” and “Actor” (or, in Hawke’s case, “Author”)—a role that opens itself up, naturally, to public scrutiny. But there are quotations from Walt Whitman and Mark Twain in particular that speak loudly and clearly in regards to what A Bright Ray of Darkness seeks and achieves. In “Song of Myself,” Whitman writes, “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” Incidentally, this “barbaric yawp” is central to a pivotal scene in Ethan Hawke’s 1989 film Dead Poets Society. Perhaps this rousing moment stuck with the actor-writer, or perhaps it’s an intentional personal connection. Or both. Regardless, Whitman is a very unapologetic poet, the man who embraces his contradictions because “I am large, I contain multitudes.” This is precisely what William understands—but how to reconcile all those facets and make them a single meaningful life? The “barbaric yawp” can be victorious or frustrated. C’est la vie. More significantly, Hawke references a scene from early in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, before the eponymous child flees civilization and is confronted with the ugliness of Gilded Age America. It’s a haunting moment: I was thrilled to see Hawke reference it. It’s often overlooked in favor of Huck’s later adventures with the runaway slave Jim, on the raft and charting a course through the Midwest and South. We too often want to leap into the action of life without remembering that periods of introspection are what prepare us for the turns and twists of our journeys first. In the scene referenced, Huck desires “a change.” He seeks, even early in the novel, a “Territory ahead” where he can be himself. Huck declares, “I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead.” This level of depression in a pre-teen is distressing. That Hawke uses this passage to draw parallels to William’s character should also be a red flag—and perhaps we’re meant to understand that the reckless, even repulsive man we meet is more disturbed than we acknowledge and that he, as narrator, will admit. In Twain’s novel, Huck is framed by a window, looking into the night and hearing “that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that’s on its mind and can’t make itself understood, and so can’t rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving.” Bingo. That’s William: trying to make a sound (or maybe make sense of the strange sound that plagues him by coming out of his throat on occasion and in a way he can’t control) and be heard, understood, accepted. William has meaningless flings, works with a whole host of people, and co-parents two children—but there’s still emptiness in him and he, like Huck Finn, longs for something more even if he doesn’t know what. Maybe Huck, and William, should have unleashed a great “barbaric yawp” into the nighttime, into the empty theatre, and let that catharsis be its own catalyst. William is always waiting for something. His wife to return to him (even show up at his show!), his father to make amends, critics to fall in love with his Hotspur. Some of this happens, some doesn’t. Towards the novel’s end, he thinks how “[e]verywhere I went people tried to take care of me—give me advice—put me back together. I always felt a little off balance listening—like I was waiting. Waiting to leave. Waiting for a cigarette. Waiting for someone else.” ABRoD reminds us to stop waiting and to start doing. Even wounds (and Hawke’s novel has literal and metaphorical ones aplenty) are, as William’s father tells him, a chance to reclaim something: “’being wounded is the point of this life. I know it’s hard to grasp,’” the older Harding insists, “‘but by being wounded, your heart is just breaking open. Let it.[…] Let your intellect or your will, whatever you want to call it—your personal agenda—be transformed into faith.’” William’s father may be a deeply Christian man, and his son appears to have abandoned such thinking. But “faith” also means independence and integrity. As his father adds, “‘Faith is simply a way of being completely open to the possible presence of love.’” Of course, what “love” in and of itself is will always remain a universal mystery. There is no single “right” love. But self-love? Self-acceptance? Of flaws and all? Of personal failures and contradictions? Yes. It’s is a good start. I bet many readers will pick up A Bright Ray of Darkness and think, “oh, boy. Just what we need: another privileged white celebrity bemoaning the shortcomings of his wealthy world.” I confess that I had, and still have, that inclination here, particularly at certain parts of the novel when William’s questionable decisions make me want to handcuff him to his Lyceum Theatre dressing room wall and keep him there. There are moments that are problematic (the treatment of women bothers me—too much objectification. I would hope a father would recall his daughter and use that as sobering information). But I also remind myself—and others—that just because someone’s position is elite or different or privileged or whatever does not automatically mean that we can rule it out as inconsequential. And Hawke does have ambition and talent—and clearly a very keen sense of longing and love for the performing arts. In the middle of a pandemic, nearing a year since the Broadway (and elsewhere) shutdown of theatres and other live performance venues, I found myself drinking deeply from the descriptions of acting and the novel’s imaginative production of Henry IV. I can’t recall the last time I read a fictional book rooted in the theatre world that felt so real to me. I am no actor; I am simply a frequent (when there is theatre!) theatregoer who feels empty without live performances in my life. I typically go to multiple shows a month and, now, during shutdown, I can only think back to memory. ABRoD offers a “bright ray” of creative spark within the darkness of a global pandemic. Additionally, Hawke’s true talent is putting is thumb on the pulse of Broadway and New York’s art world and drawing our hands there, too, so that we can also feel the pulse and want to keep our fingers there on it for just that much longer. When William talks with an aging playwright and is left confounded by the older man’s advice, the young actor notes, “what a mistake it was to meet your heroes.” I wonder: is this Hawke’s reminder to readers that the image of him they’ve built—movie star, Broadway artist, writer and producer of intelligent art—is more than just the sum of his work? We all would like our life’s contributions to stand for something profound and true but, within, we’re all just a mess. Truthfully, we’re all interchangeable players. Like the set design of Henry IV, we can be deconstructed in minutes and hauled out to the bins. We’re all even disappointments to ourselves, flickering matches on the cusp of dying. That’s okay—as long as we know it and can move beyond it. As long as we keep the flame burning by sharing it with others. By the time A Bright Ray of Darkness ends, we may be annoyed with William. We may not even like him. I do think, however, our naturally empathic selves will at least want him to find purpose, something grounding, and to grow securely into his possibilities for all the right reasons. Because, if William can let go and live, can’t we all?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    I started out listening on audible as I don't know Ethan Hawkes previous books and it was so enjoyable, like having a Broadway or West End play unfolding in your earbuds. Ethan Hawke, as you would expect, is a fabulous narrator. I enjoyed it so much I bought the book and finished reading it the old fashioned way. Both work it is a book of angst, love, sex, humour. When it was being narrated on audible it was hard not to think it was autobiographical. I had to reread the blurb to remind myself this I started out listening on audible as I don't know Ethan Hawkes previous books and it was so enjoyable, like having a Broadway or West End play unfolding in your earbuds. Ethan Hawke, as you would expect, is a fabulous narrator. I enjoyed it so much I bought the book and finished reading it the old fashioned way. Both work it is a book of angst, love, sex, humour. When it was being narrated on audible it was hard not to think it was autobiographical. I had to reread the blurb to remind myself this was a story. It is set in the thespian world, celebrity marriages, relationships, breakups, casual sex, as the main character finds his marriage crumbling. It is a good read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    Yes, that Ethan Hawke, who, in addition to directing and producing and starring in movies and TV series, has been writing novels for quite some time now. And doing it all very well. Don’t you just hate that? Seriously, this is a starkly candid, (very) thinly fictionalized account of the period in 2003-4 when Hawke’s marriage to Uma Thurman was very publicly cratering and he was a movie star making his Broadway debut, in Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts 1 and 2, no less, in the physically demanding r Yes, that Ethan Hawke, who, in addition to directing and producing and starring in movies and TV series, has been writing novels for quite some time now. And doing it all very well. Don’t you just hate that? Seriously, this is a starkly candid, (very) thinly fictionalized account of the period in 2003-4 when Hawke’s marriage to Uma Thurman was very publicly cratering and he was a movie star making his Broadway debut, in Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts 1 and 2, no less, in the physically demanding role of Hotspur. If you care for celebrity gossip, it’s very entertaining in that superficial way. Though Hawke has renamed the characters, it’s easy enough to Google who they really are/were. (For example, who’s the self-centred, famous non-team-player jerk who plays Falstaff? Turns out [spoiler alert!] it’s Kevin Kline.) Hawke calls his character William Harding. William is not eating, not sleeping well, drinking far too much, pining for his wife and hopelessly hoping they will get back together. He’s living in a hotel suite, holding it together—barely—for his very young children, to whom he is devoted. Between his self-abuse and the gruelling work on the play, he’s dropped nearly 30 pounds and is almost used up. (See the burnt match image on the book cover?) It is emotional torture to go through a marriage breakup for virtually anyone. Imagine having the whole thing play out on the cover of every tabloid and glossy in the land, where the accepted version is pretty much that this much lesser-than idiot cheated on his gorgeous, blameless superstar wife, who then threw him out. Hawke does an amazing job of walking us through every nuance of that in the person of William. I mean, who knows what really happened, but there’s a genuine, lived emotional truth laid out on these pages. And the insider’s view of participating in a huge Broadway production is fascinating—a detailed account of rehearsals and performances, the backstage rivalries, resentments and friendships, the sexual attractions, the staging and the props and the costumes and makeup, even blocking and rehearsing the curtain calls, how well audience whispers can be heard from the stage, the agony of waiting for the opening night reviews, and on and on. I loved it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Brandt

    First, let’s just admit that perhaps the only person who could write this novel in 2021, the story of the trials and tribulations of a rich white man, is Ethan Hawke. However, it’s really, REALLY good. Ethan Hawke has always been one of my favorite actors. I grew up watching his movies, discovering Before Sunrise at the impressionable age of 15 and then seeing Before Sunset at 18. Before Midnight came out when I was nearly 30, and I had lived an entire young adulthood of tribulations and marriag First, let’s just admit that perhaps the only person who could write this novel in 2021, the story of the trials and tribulations of a rich white man, is Ethan Hawke. However, it’s really, REALLY good. Ethan Hawke has always been one of my favorite actors. I grew up watching his movies, discovering Before Sunrise at the impressionable age of 15 and then seeing Before Sunset at 18. Before Midnight came out when I was nearly 30, and I had lived an entire young adulthood of tribulations and marriage and dissolution of that marriage. Ethan understands those issues and he writes about them with an artfulness that isn’t stuffy or with an upturned nose. A Bright Ray of Darkness is one of those novels that I found myself thinking about when I wasn’t reading and ruminating on some of the passages and quotes within its pages. I read it slowly to digest it, to feel the emotions and troubles of William, the main character. I can see myself coming back to this one a few times in the future.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tom Walsh

    A Powerfully written dissection of an Actor’s Soul. Hawke takes the Reader on a rollercoaster ride between a husband destroying his marriage and Family by his own actions and an actor destroying his play and his performance by his own actions. Back and forth, up and down, into and out of his brain, heart and cock, we follow his powerful words that perfectly capture this tortured soul. He exposes every facet of his pain. It’s an exhausting train wreck that you don’t want to take your eyes and ear A Powerfully written dissection of an Actor’s Soul. Hawke takes the Reader on a rollercoaster ride between a husband destroying his marriage and Family by his own actions and an actor destroying his play and his performance by his own actions. Back and forth, up and down, into and out of his brain, heart and cock, we follow his powerful words that perfectly capture this tortured soul. He exposes every facet of his pain. It’s an exhausting train wreck that you don’t want to take your eyes and ears off. This is what words are for and Hawke uses them beautifully. Take a few hours and bathe in this book. Five stars.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Pete Castleton

    Incredible! Hawke is a gifted writer. This "novel" loosely tracks with Hawke's performance of Henry IV at Lincoln Center in 2003, while he was separating from his first wife Uma Thurman. Hawke is one of my favorite theater actors and while this novel may remind you of the movie Birdman, this novel is not fantastical, more about the author, and even more insightful about the relationships and dynamics behind the curtain. It also reminds me of Martin Amis' recent semi-autobiographical novel, Insid Incredible! Hawke is a gifted writer. This "novel" loosely tracks with Hawke's performance of Henry IV at Lincoln Center in 2003, while he was separating from his first wife Uma Thurman. Hawke is one of my favorite theater actors and while this novel may remind you of the movie Birdman, this novel is not fantastical, more about the author, and even more insightful about the relationships and dynamics behind the curtain. It also reminds me of Martin Amis' recent semi-autobiographical novel, Inside Story. This form of writing can be gut-wrenching because the author uses the freedom of fiction to probe and exorcise deeply personal experiences.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeannine

    So pretentious, and not even being subtle in that it’s a “fictionalized” (barely) retelling of his divorce from Uma Thurman. But it is good.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robbie Claravall

    Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gary Branson

    Well written story with a complex narrator. Especially enjoyed the setting, behind the scenes on Broadway.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Patrick Boyer

    "It was darking indeed." This was just about everything I had expected from a book by the poster-boy of Gen-X slacker philosophy. Ethan Hawke's A Bright Ray of Darkness follows a famous screen actor as his marriage is falling apart and he ventures upon his first Broadway production. It all feels very personal, despite being a novel, and hits upon themes filled with both immense emotional and artistic heft. Our protagonist is a mess, and throughout the book, it only gets worse as he tries to b "It was darking indeed." This was just about everything I had expected from a book by the poster-boy of Gen-X slacker philosophy. Ethan Hawke's A Bright Ray of Darkness follows a famous screen actor as his marriage is falling apart and he ventures upon his first Broadway production. It all feels very personal, despite being a novel, and hits upon themes filled with both immense emotional and artistic heft. Our protagonist is a mess, and throughout the book, it only gets worse as he tries to be better. He's talented and devoted completely to his art and his kids, but he's also afraid. Throughout, we're given plenty of monologues from characters big and small about sex, drugs, and existential crises. They fit this world perfectly through the lens through which its being shown to us. They build upon Hawke's ideas and central themes, and offer a look into how scatterbrained every aspect of our protagonist's life has become. "As our playwright reminds us, 'Live and love thy misery!'" Hawke's prose works so well because he never writes as if he knows better than his reader does, and the world in which the story's set is rich with authenticity. I love the theater, I love Shakespeare, and I love the art of acting, so even if I wasn't also a fan of Hawke and his brand of Gen-X slacker philosophy, I likely would've fallen for this one instantly. A Bright Ray of Darkness can occasionally feel just as unsure as its protagonist. But in the end, its about an artist and a father facing the fear of not being enough. And since these themes are always clear, it's characters never flat, and its author's voice so driven by experience, it never misses a cue. The darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light. -Psalm 139:12 9/10

  25. 4 out of 5

    K L

    Ethan Hawke is one of my favourite actors, but I had never read any of his novels. This one caught my eye and I thought I would give it a go. I did not love it and yet it did not disappoint me. It was exactly what I expected it to be. To me, this feels like a very male book, which kind of makes sense, as this is a book about a man who is trying to find grip in the world after a relationship breakdown. His outlook on the world is pretty cynical and from a very masculine perspective, but it works i Ethan Hawke is one of my favourite actors, but I had never read any of his novels. This one caught my eye and I thought I would give it a go. I did not love it and yet it did not disappoint me. It was exactly what I expected it to be. To me, this feels like a very male book, which kind of makes sense, as this is a book about a man who is trying to find grip in the world after a relationship breakdown. His outlook on the world is pretty cynical and from a very masculine perspective, but it works in the context of this particular story. The book is about a movie actor trying his hand at a Broadway Shakespeare play. Write what you know, I guess! It spans the run of the play. It feels most believeable and is gorgeously written in places and made me cringe a bit in others. The main character is not particularly likeable and I wanted to give him a good shake a few times, but I kind of found myself rooting for him at the same time. Is this particular movie actor a good writer? Yes, I think he is. If you have seen interviews with him, you will know exactly what this book is like. It is eloquent enough and kind of raw and intense. Very masculine and cynical, but a little bit of warmth does run through it. The style of this book was not quite for me, but it is a good novel. If you’re intrigued by it, read it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

    I really wanted to like the novel because I liked Ethan as a younger actor. He had a boyish charm on screen, and I hoped he would write a memorable and moving book that fit my impression of him. Nope. He wrote a book that seemed more autobiographical than anything else. If one removed the cursing and sex, there wouldn’t be much left on the pages. It is just a self-absorbed, self-pitying narrator who expects his soon-to-be ex-wife to show up and applaud his theatrical brilliance as he performs in I really wanted to like the novel because I liked Ethan as a younger actor. He had a boyish charm on screen, and I hoped he would write a memorable and moving book that fit my impression of him. Nope. He wrote a book that seemed more autobiographical than anything else. If one removed the cursing and sex, there wouldn’t be much left on the pages. It is just a self-absorbed, self-pitying narrator who expects his soon-to-be ex-wife to show up and applaud his theatrical brilliance as he performs in a Shakespeare production. I was grateful that his wife had a strength and a sense of purpose because at least one character had a shred of self-respect and determination to move forward. I was disappointed in this one. I won’t be reading his other books.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    I wish I had a dollar for every self-indulgent, white, male, narcissistic, misogynist protagonist I’m supposed to find sympathetic because they’re an “artist.” This reads like Kerouac fan fiction, the kind of crap that only got published because the author is famous. So, so much faux-deep philosophizing on the nature of fame/meaning of life—like drunk conversations at a Hollywood party. The female characters, unsurprisingly, desperately want to A. Have sex with the protagonist, B. Mommy the prot I wish I had a dollar for every self-indulgent, white, male, narcissistic, misogynist protagonist I’m supposed to find sympathetic because they’re an “artist.” This reads like Kerouac fan fiction, the kind of crap that only got published because the author is famous. So, so much faux-deep philosophizing on the nature of fame/meaning of life—like drunk conversations at a Hollywood party. The female characters, unsurprisingly, desperately want to A. Have sex with the protagonist, B. Mommy the protagonist, or C. All of the Above. I could live the rest of my days without reading another woe-is-me, pretentious, downward-spiral novel written by a white, cis, hetero man.

  28. 4 out of 5

    mari mccarthy

    A deep dive into an actor's craft I am not an author: I am not an actor. Ethan Hawke does both very, very well. The story is about an actor preparing and acting in a Shakespeare play on Broadway, while dealing with a marriage that has unraveled. I really enjoyed the deep dive into how an actor brings a character to the stage, and breathes live into the character night after night. The actor learns how to enhance his craft, and employ some of the same ideas to his messed up personal life. The nove A deep dive into an actor's craft I am not an author: I am not an actor. Ethan Hawke does both very, very well. The story is about an actor preparing and acting in a Shakespeare play on Broadway, while dealing with a marriage that has unraveled. I really enjoyed the deep dive into how an actor brings a character to the stage, and breathes live into the character night after night. The actor learns how to enhance his craft, and employ some of the same ideas to his messed up personal life. The novel is easy to read. The protagonist is easy to like as he is to hate.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    This book took me way too long to read. I kept stopping every few pages to scour the internet to see if everything mentioned really happened. Shockingly, everything I looked up and could find actually happened at some point in time to the author. It is always said "write what you know" and it appears Mr. Hawke has done that. This seems to be a very thinly veiled work of fiction and it is an absolute great read. This book took me way too long to read. I kept stopping every few pages to scour the internet to see if everything mentioned really happened. Shockingly, everything I looked up and could find actually happened at some point in time to the author. It is always said "write what you know" and it appears Mr. Hawke has done that. This seems to be a very thinly veiled work of fiction and it is an absolute great read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Closer to 3.5 stars. Once I got over trying to decipher fact from fiction this was a very enjoyable read. If you're a longtime fan of Ethan's work, it's easy to recognize the inspiration for some of the locations and characters. Loved the play format, as well as the glimpse behind the scenes of NYC theater and trials of putting on a Shakespeare production. The ending is where this novel really shined for me. Closer to 3.5 stars. Once I got over trying to decipher fact from fiction this was a very enjoyable read. If you're a longtime fan of Ethan's work, it's easy to recognize the inspiration for some of the locations and characters. Loved the play format, as well as the glimpse behind the scenes of NYC theater and trials of putting on a Shakespeare production. The ending is where this novel really shined for me.

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