Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Final Appearance of America's Favorite Girl Next Door

I've accepted the Blogging A to Z Challenge. All month, I'm going to blog about Books from A to Z.

There's a point in time. Your life can be defined as everything before this point, and everything after. Past this point, nothing will ever be the same.

Sometimes it's an event. Sometimes it's an action. Sometimes it's a single word.

For Ellen Gregory, it's all of this.

She's a top-tier comedian and the star of a phenomenally popular sitcom. But her life is about to unravel. Part of it is her own self-doubt and misery. Some of it is fallout from a devastating encounter with a stalker. The largest part, however, comes from something she thought she would never experience, something she felt certain didn't even exist - love.

The Final Appearance of America's Favorite Girl Next Door is about a lot of things. Memory. Celebrity. Family. Identity. Chance. But more than anything, it's a love story, two love stories in fact. It's a wise and funny chronicle of a Hollywood star who tries to escape, only to find herself confronted with emptiness, with the shocking knowledge that she doesn't even know herself. But that all changes when a young man, unaware of her celebrity, runs into her at a grocery store and asks her about broccoli. From that chance encounter, her life begins to split. And then split again as she is forced to deal with loss, both physical and emotional. And then, maybe, she can rise from the ashes of her former self and finally become the person she needs to be.

This novel, written by Stephen Stark, is scheduled to be published this year by Shelf Media Group, run by the wonderful Margaret Brown [UPDATE: It's now available]. I was fortunate enough to be given an advance copy of the novel and I loved it. It flirts with science fictional ideas, like the playback of memory (ala Brainstorm) but only as a tiny backdrop. While the science nerd in me would have loved to see more exploration of the memory device, the reader in me appreciated the depth and texture of the story and characters, which is really what the book is about. Stark does a marvelous job creating a vivid, living person in Ellen Gregory. The supporting cast are also marvelously drawn, and Stark does a great job weaving the narrative through time, adding in "press clippings" and shifting perspectives to enhance and expand our views of Ellen.

With Charlie Sheen continuing to make headlines, this novel is unexpectedly timely as well as entertaining. Strangely, though, I find that Ellen Gregory seems much more real to me than Sheen - and I sure would prefer to see her on my television. Isn't it funny how fiction can so often be much more true than anything we see in "real" life....

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