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Review by Sam North

First novels. A lot of people are agin ‘em, some are for ‘em. Celebrity first novels are usually just plain awful and written by someone else. One usually hopes there won’t be a second.
So when the actor Ethan Hawke writes a novel you are at first surprised, then wary, but you read it because well Ethan has made some pretty surprising choices in his acting career and you kind of suspect him of having some integrity, so clearly lacking in some of his contemporaries. (Besides which the mother of his child is Uma Thurman and so we know he has good taste).

The Hottest State by Ethan Hawke is slight, shallow and self aware. It is also very well poised, emotionally quite deep and very acutely able at describing the utter foolishness of being 21 and hopelessly, completely in love, astonishingly blind to the defects of the other person and of how manipulative they can be. This novel should be read by all 21 year olds contemplating falling in love. You are about to enter the most self-centered, obsessive, egocentric world of the young American female and be eaten alive.

Ethan’s protagonist William falls for a girl who won’t sleep with him. There’s always one, right? Naturally the more she won’t sleep with him, the more he’s going to be in love with her and the more it is going to hurt when it is all over. Ethan has the wisdom to let us know that it is all over before it begins, but that’s OK, because he takes us on the painful rite of passage that is necessary for young American males to gain perspective in the war between men and women.

Someone once said that American males don’t know anything about emotion until they are 30. Well here’s the thing, by thirty it is too late. You have already been betrayed, if not by the woman you loved, but then by yourself. You already burned out the soft-centre of the human heart on the wrong woman well before you meet Miss Right and any relationship formed after the age of 21 is a compromised situation of wearing sheaths on barbed wire. This book, taking place over only a few weeks, wonderfully charts the intensity and agonies engendered by such passion and you know that some of this has to be autobiographical.

The Hottest State is about the moment before the disillusion sets in, the moment of complete abandonment in a new relationship, the moment when the dam of passion breaks free and all you want to do is have sex all day all night with this woman, or this man you have found. Damn the consequences. It is a warning too, to all those who think the best relationships are begun in bars.

William is an actor on his way to Paris in a week to act in some straight to video movie. She is an artist. (I seem to recall) It doesn’t matter. She is Sara, she seems to have amazing breasts, which matters a lot to William, who is recovering from another relationship at this time. Of course so is Sara and that one seems to have damaged her considerably. But Sara has entrapped him, got him all steamed upand laid down strange ground rules. They are all unexploded mines but he doesn’t know he’s in danger until it is way too late. Humiliation can only only follow.

Of course finding someone who loves her, faults and all, you would think she would be nicer, but she doesn’t get want to do that. Her unwillingness to commit drives him crazy. She is snappish, waspish, shrewish, critical, fey and deeply controlling. He notices only her breasts.

Now you can say that any man who only notices breasts gets what he deserves, but I think it is her obvious lack of humour that will defeat this relationship. This young man needed his heart breaking. Of course it destroys him. He’s 21, pain is real when you are 21. That’s the only good thing about being older and reading a book like this, you no longer feel ANYTHING. This book reminds you why.

Love is difficult, writing about it is hard, as they say.
THE HOTTEST STATE by Ethan Hawke is a great little summer read, poignant, funny, sophisticated and I genuinely look forward to another novel from this actor.

List Price: 6.99 Category Romance, 208 pages new edition (6 October, 1997)
Flamingo; ISBN: 0006550479

© Sam North 2001

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