Thanks to reviewing for NetGalley, I read a lot of “new to me” authors. Enough so the names don’t always stick. I started reviewing for this very reason…so I could remember why I wanted to pick up another of their books.
Why am I bringing this up now? I’m an Austen fan, but once I read past the title, the author’s name brought back the delight I’d felt when reading Pretty Face some two years earlier. At the time, I recommended the novel to my father. He is the main reason I’ve spent my life on the edge of theater from up front to backstage, at least until my son took over the charge. Lucy Parker folds you into the complications of live theater so completely with her subtle, nuanced writing. She does a wonderful job capturing the absolute love of theater that draws people to the stage as well as the quirky, sometimes poisonous personalities found there. She gets to the heart not just of people but of theater people, who have their own set of motivations.
The Austen Playbook has many similarities to Pretty Face, but I quickly discovered the only true similarity is love of theater itself. Playbook focuses on theater dynasties and the pressure to live up to your family legacy, but it doesn’t stop there. Layer on two families at odds over three generations, with economic and social consequences, add in a grand betrayal that echoes down through time, and you’ve only touched the surface of this story.
While there are elements of melodrama, the characters bring the events into sharp focus through their strengths and flaws, keeping the story from tipping over into an exaggerated caricature. It’s powerful and poignant as two people from opposing families discover they’re stronger and better people when together. And it’s not all deep drama either.
Lucy Parker turns her skillful hand not just to writing revealing body language when words are not enough to convey the complex situations. She includes deadpan humor that made me look around for someone to share the joke with. Or maybe joke is the wrong word. The humor comes into the situation not tacked on but as a natural outgrowth. Simple things like the cast assuming a building designed to mimic older theaters would lack ventilation or Freddy’s attempt to distract working more because she failed to carry it off than because she succeeded. These are not setups, but rather circumstances that provoke empathic chuckles.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention the plot seeding. I was able to intuit the impending crisis from body language combined with events, but then doubted my interpretation enough to be led astray for a bit. That’s the best of possible worlds because the answers are there and yet not heavy handed enough to spoil the fun of exploring possibilities.
There are open door relations between Freddy and Griff for those who care, but it’s not explicit or detailed, and plays into the story events well. There are also many secondary or minor characters with quirky and conniving natures to turn even the simplest complication into something more.
If you haven’t figured out this second taste has won me over, know that I picked up the rest of this series as soon as I finished The Austen Playbook. This novel had me from the start and kept me going until the final moment when Freddy turns formal plans into exasperated laughter. Freddy and Griff are far from similar people, but together they are a perfect match in blended humor, love, and support.
P.S. I received this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.