New Book Review “A Stranger Like you” by Elizabeth Brundage Viking, published Aug. 5, 2010
This is a tough novel to review as it’s so good and at times so bad. There’s story and then there’s the presentation, the language, the fictional dream an author tries to create. And it’s so, so easy to break that dream, even with one sentence or one phrase.
Brundage is a master story teller, without many flaws or breaks in this dream….rarely. I recall the first chapter of The Sound and the Fury, a completely flawless first person account of reality and experience seen through the eyes of a 33 year old,’idiot.’ The ability to create this perfection in a fictional piece is almost impossible, especially with such a heady work as Faulkner’s.
Back to Brundage. Her story is multi-layered, involving Hollywood, the land of dreams, with some very well done illustrations of the machinations of how the film industry works and how politics and parties play into it all, as seen by a disappointed screenwriter and a producer, with other supporting characters. The story draws one in as there are strong emotions and plans for revenge against the powerful producer, a strangely drawn woman, Hedda Chase. She has rejected his screenplay, after the former producer had given it ‘the green light.” The drama begins.
I enjoyed the storyline, the twists, the revenge and possible murder. Then there is the huge twist, three fourths into the book, something completely out of left field which draws us in even deeper. I won’t reveal the plot or outcome but the book’s main theme is about power and the freedom from wielding it, even freedom of living itself.
Brundage is adept with structure and rhythm and word choice. She attended the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and received a Michener Award, which is given to a promising writer in hopes they will use the money and time to complete a piece of work. This story used time and plot in odd ways, not really unique, but it moves back and forth in its presentation. We may be reading the story, and at a chapter break, we find ourselves back ten years, tracing the life of one of the characters, and often it’s not obvious but confusing, even irritating at times. Yet her development of one of the main characters is so well done, we have no idea who he really is until deep into the book, like when a camera pulls back to reveal what’s really happening.
The problem for this reviewer is the language. It’s generally standard, used to push the story along and we hardly notice it; it doesn’t break the dream, but then she goes and says trite expressions like , “She laughed nervously….” Or, “He ran up the stairs quickly.” For me, a lover of originality, this threw me. She knows better than to cheat the reader of seeing just how did this woman laugh nervously. If she would have used her obvious skills to design and create a real character who had her own mannerisms, which she does, but not enough, it would be a tremendous accomplishment. Once she lets down her guard on expressions and cheats on clichés, it reduces A Stranger Like You,” to a very likable, easy to read mystery, but not a literarily superlative novel, which of course quite likely means little to most readers.
I recommend this book as a fun read, at times even spellbinding, but felt let down too many times when the author showed her hand. “Authorial intervention,” of any kind, went out in approximately the 18th century in literature. “Dear Reader, at this point in our story, let me tell you…etc.”
is almost never, ever done unless in dialogue or for some specific purpose, but never unknowingly, which I feel Brundage does at times. This is nitpicking but it concerned me as I know she can do better.
Brundage is also the author of The Doctor’s Wife, which is a mirror to this book, same structure, same style and a good, strong story, very good in fact. Enjoy her book and put it away on the shelf to be basically forgotten, although a good time was had by all!