In Dudley’s debut novel, a film-festival volunteer chauffeurs, advises and connects with a Hollywood star–turned–documentary filmmaker.
Jeff Whittaker, a lately unemployed 56-year-old man, used to advise the Ottawan government and corporate bigwigs in communications strategy. Now cobbling together freelance opportunities, Whittaker agrees to volunteer for a Canadian documentary film festival. He’s tapped to drive around 56-year-old Hollywood actress Margaret Torrance, who’s lately been getting few new roles. After she makes a few missteps dealing with questions about her controversial documentary Red Carpet (about sexism in the movie industry), she takes Whittaker up on his offer of help. Both have emotional baggage, and Whittaker hides a secret that could push Torrance away—yet they also share an undeniable attraction. As they come under the harsh glare of the media spotlight, they face challenges in trusting each other. In this talky, thoughtful novel, Dudley offers a grown-up romance between two people who share a love for doing good work. Drawing on his own background in the film and video industry, he anchors Whittaker and Torrance’s growing relationship in practical details of screenings, dinner parties and interviews. Whittaker is an interesting departure from the macho hero, as he’s an introvert who champions Torrance despite his dislike of confrontation. Given her history, Torrance’s attraction to Whittaker’s gentleness makes sense: “It’s not just that you know what to say…it’s that you understand. I never thought empathy could be so sexy.” All the talking, navel-gazing and epiphanies, however, bog down the story somewhat; during a romantic evening, for example, the two main characters sometimes sound more like seminar attendees than soon-to-be lovers. Luckily, Stewart also provides welcome humor and self-awareness: When Whittaker quotes a Latin phrase, corruptio optimi pessima, and translates it (“The corruption of what is best is the worst tragedy”), Torrance says what readers may be thinking: “How romantic.” Whittaker then comes back with: “Then there’s corruptio optimi pajama, which means, ‘You look hot in my pajamas.’ ”
A thoughtful exploration of honor, trust and middle-age romance.