Picks and Pans Review: Ash Wednesday
Jimmy Heartsock is a self-loathing speed freak, AWOL from the Army and pretty much everything else. Christy Ann Walker is his pregnant girlfriend, adrift in a world of financial and spiritual poverty. Ethan Hawke is a gorgeous, Oscar-nominated movie star, happily married to an equally gorgeous, Oscar-nominated movie star. So why is he writing about people like Jimmy and Christy? Because he's serious about this writing thing, dammit.
Hawke's road novel (his second, following 1996's The Hottest State) is not a tossed-off celebrity lark. It's crammed full of big themes: despair, redemption, masculinity, fate. Characters say things like, "Simply by being born we've asked for something to do." Which only proves that wanting really sincerely to write meaningful literature is not the same as being able to pull it off. Hawke's jazzy neo-beat internal monologues and wry existential riffs have their charms, but they never amount to more than pale reflections of the real thing, by writers who haven't starred opposite Denzel Washington. Give Hawke credit for trying, but if you like tales of transcendence in the midst of squalor, why not read Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac? Hawke obviously has. (Knopf, $22.95)
Bottom Line: Leave writing fiction to the experts