A newly famous actor is kidnapped and his fading-actress girlfriend re-evaluates their connection in Stewart’s latest novel (The New Neighbor, 2015, etc.).
Charlie Outlaw, ascendant TV star—and yes, that's his real name—has made a fatal romantic gaffe: Asked by reporters if his longtime girlfriend, Josie Lamar, is the love of his life, he gives, from what is perhaps an excess of zeal, the precisely wrong answer: "Yes!...So far." The relationship blows up, and Charlie retreats to an unnamed tropical island far from the artifice of Hollywood. Almost immediately, he is kidnapped by activists protesting overdevelopment—and, surprisingly, not because they know who he is. Meanwhile, a shellshocked Josie, having passed age 40, that dangerous precipice for actresses, phones it in, doing guest spots, a sitcom, and a fan convention. As her career continues its downward spiral from her long-past glory days as TV action heroine Bronwyn Kyle, her increasingly frantic texts to Charlie go unreturned. She has no idea where he is but assumes he’s ghosting her. Such is the setup of Stewart’s thoughtful study of two Hollywood denizens who take their craft as actors seriously; so seriously that exhortations from Stanislavsky (among other acting gurus) not only precede each section, but inform how Charlie and Josie live their lives, even in extremis—while confined to a car trunk, Charlie contemplates the contrast between acted emotional response and real panic. The chapters alternate between Charlie's and Josie's stories, but the narrative voice which swoops into and around the psyches of all the characters, however minor, is old-school omniscient, saying things like “Let’s leave him there, poor Charlie....” Stewart varies the lengths of her sentences to achieve an unstudied lyricism and cadence. As the kidnappers betray their incompetence, which renders them no less dangerous, and Josie considers a flirtation with her former co-star Max, the meditations on acting, while fascinating in their own right, distract more and more from the motivation and behavior of Josie and Charlie as protagonists of this book, not of their latest scripts.
An earnest and mostly successful attempt to humanize Hollywood.