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Ash Wednesday    by Ethan Hawke order for
Ash Wednesday
by Ethan Hawke
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Lots of actors write novels. Most of them are, at best, mediocre - the kind of thing no publisher in his right mind would buy, if there weren't a big name attached to it. Ethan Hawke's first novel, on the other hand, The Hottest State, was well written and charming, a nice variation on one of the more traditional literary themes: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and so on. I was immensely impressed by the novel.

Ash Wednesday, Hawke's second novel, is also impressive - because he's shown that not only can he write, but he can write different stuff. Although this novel is cosmetically similar to The Hottest State (it's a love story featuring a couple of offbeat young people), it is, if you don't mind a lit-crit term, tonally different. It isn't as introspective as State; it's not quite as gentle (although State wasn't exactly a fluffy bunny). Its characters are harsher, its dialogue more hard-edged, its atmosphere less refined.

It's also geographically different, larger. While The Hottest State kept its characters in the same general area, like a stage play with only a couple of sets, Ash Wednesday sends them off on the road, puts them in a car and launches them on a cross-country trip, a literal and metaphorical voyage of discovery. This novel isn't just good-for-an-actor good; it's good, period. After nearly two decades as an actor (he made his debut in the mid-1980s in Explorers, a fine Joe Dante film), Hawke has finally been nominated for an Academy Award. If he keeps writing novels this well, it won't take him than long to get nominated for some literary awards.

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