The Confessions of Edward Day, By Valerie Martin

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The Independent Culture

There's a recognisably Ripley-esque vibe to Valerie Martin's new novel - a noirish drama set amongst a group of aspiring young actors in 1970s New York.

The star of the show is Edward Day, an up-and-coming thespian hoping to make his mark on the emerging off- and off-off Broadway theatre scene. During the afternoons he and his friends study either under Stella Adler and Sandy Meisner, and by night socialise in the beery drinking holes of the city's yet-to-be trendified downtown.

Edward is a man with issues (his mother committed suicide), but as the novel opens, his problems are compounded by the events of a summer house party at the Jersey shore. It's here that Edward, out on an evening stroll, accidentally falls from a dilapidated pier into the waters beneath. To his rescue comes Guy Margate, a late arrival at the party, who claims to have met Edward before. Dragging him from the waves, he saves Edward's life, but seems to expect something in return.

From this point on, Edward finds himself shadowed by Guy like some evil twin. Not only do the two men look unnervingly similar, but they are both in competition for the same woman, a beautiful but fragile actress called Madeleine Delavergne.

Martin, a writer who enters fresh territory with each new novel, evokes the competitive world of Broadway hopefuls with caustic panache.

Her convincing bit players include the urbane and generous Teddy Winterbottom, who once out of the closet, proves the most successful player of all, and Marlene Webern, a star in her forties, whom Edward tries to seduce during a summer run of Sweet Bird of Youth.

In wry asides, Edward fills us in on the psychology of a "tribe" destined to live life "illuminated by floodlights, enacted for the benefit of strangers." With every character in the novel wedded to artifice, Martin soon has us doubting Edward's role in the enfolding drama.

What is clear is that Edward and Madeleine are both gifted actors, while the ever more unhinged Guy is not. The love triangle's shocking denouement takes place during a performance of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. It is a moment of pure theatre - capturing the point when the twinned desire for both dissemblance and revelation can no longer co-exist.

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