The New York Times nailed it.
In “The Confessions of Edward Day,” Valerie Martin “builds an ominous tension almost Hitchcockian in its trenchant and perverse knowledge about the human animal.”
The Times called it a “sort-of thriller.”
It’s the Hitchcock reference that struck me because of one of Sir Alfred’s best, “Strangers on A Train,” was based on a Patricia Highsmith novel (although the book’s plot is even better) and it was Patricia Highsmith who came to mind during the entire time I was reading “Confessions.”
Best of all, the ending packs a nifty wallop. The wrap-up declines every opportunity to turn saccharine.
“The Confessions of Edward Day” is light on its feet. I won’t go on and on about the Highsmith comparison, but even the New York setting evokes Highsmith’s work and both Edward Day and his friend-nemesis Guy Margate display the determined, relentless drive of some of her most obsessed characters.
In her book “Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction,” Highsmith talks about energy and “Confessions of Edward Day” fairly jets along.
Said Highsmith: “To have the necessary momentum, that steady flow that is going to finish the book, you should wait until you feel the story welling up. This comes slowly during the development and plotting period, and you cannot rush it, because it is an emotional process, a sense of emotional completion, as if you felt like saying to yourself one day, ‘This is a really great story, and I can’t wait to tell it.!’ Then you start writing.”
That’s the feeling you get devouring this book, of urgent story-telling.
All three main characters in the love triangle are up-and-coming actors when we meet them and the plot is propelled when one, Guy Margate, rescues the other, Edward Day, from a near drowning. When both pursue the same woman, well, game on. Resentment and jealousy grow and the slow-boil seething begins. Day’s debt to Margate takes on rich dimensions.
One of the strengths of “Confessions” is living inside the head of an actor who is learning his craft and watching others learn theirs.
Thinking about Guy’s growth as an actor, Day thinks: “He could never see himself from himself. He created character from the outside looking in, he constructed a persona. Basically anyone can do it, politicians can do it nonstop. It’s not, perhaps, a bad way to start. But Guy could never inhabit a character because he was himself so uninhabited. Nobody home, yet he wasn’t without strong emotions. I didn’t know that last part then.”
Just when I thought “The Confessions of Edward Day” might morph into a literary soap opera (such as the summer theatre scenes in Connecticut) a nifty surprise or two brought the plot roaring back. The ending, as neatly timed as “Noises Off,” might have turned trite. There’s a gun back stage (just as Anton Chekhov would have insisted) and a performance of “Uncle Vanya” on the boards.
When the denouement carries a sweet last morsel of suspense, you find yourself thinking of “Confessions of Edward Day” as the finest, most well-crafted book you’ve read in a long time.
The writing is brisk, clever. This will be one of the fastest 286-page books you might ever read. You inhale in a few gulps and yet try to relish each breath.
The suspense is genuine, right down to the last frame. I’d love to know if Valerie Martin has ever picked up a Highsmith book.
But I think Highsmith would have enjoyed every word.