Friday, April 27, 2018

Review: LIMELIGHT by Amy Poeppel

I reviewed Limelight: A Novel (Atria Books) by Amy Poeppel for Lone Star Literary Life. "Limelight is a fun, charming, and surprisingly touching tale about the meaning of home and human connections in a world moving at an ever-accelerating pace into what often seems an ever-increasing superficiality."

Amy Poeppel
Limelight: A Novel
Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Hardcover, 978-1-5011-7637-1 (also available as an e-book, an audio book, and on Audible), 416 pgs., $26.00
May 1, 2018

Allison Brinkley’s family is discombobulated. They’ve just moved from suburban Dallas to the heart of Manhattan. Husband and father Michael is nervous about his new job. The substitute teaching position Allison had lined up falls through. Seventeen-year-old Charlotte had to change schools for senior year, leaving behind her first boyfriend. Fourteen-year-old Megan’s grades are dropping and she’s acting out, dealing with hormones. Speaking of hormones, eight-year-old Jack discovers one of those your-body-is-changing-in-new-and-confusing-ways books, which ended up in one of his moving boxes by mistake, and he’s got questions.

When Allison sideswipes a mirror off the door of a BMW, she meets Carter Reid, a Justin Bieber sort, once a charming, dimpled child crooner turned churlish, out-of-control, pop-singing bad boy. Allison accidentally becomes Carter’s personal assistant after discovering him in the ugly aftermath of a drug-infused bender with his entourage, and it’s her job to ensure Carter is ready for his Broadway debut, an adaptation of the Charles Chaplin 1952 classic film Limelight.

Limelight: A Novel is the second book from Amy Poeppel, following the critically acclaimed Small Admissions: A Novel (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2016). Limelight is a fun, charming, and surprisingly touching tale about the meaning of home and human connections in a world moving at an ever-accelerating pace into what often seems an ever-increasing superficiality.

When I was sixteen I moved from Odessa, Texas, to SoCal—that’s Southern California for you uncool people. And I was uncool there; it was like getting sucked through a wormhole and landing in a galaxy far, far away. Limelight opens as Allison stands in the doorway of her new tenth-floor apartment wondering if she needs a doormat in a carpeted hallway and how to trick-or-treat in a high-rise. The refrigerator is wood-paneled, a “barren expanse” upon which magnets won’t stick. Allison’s mother can’t imagine why Allison would trade their house in Texas for a New York apartment; it’s “like going from an Escalade to a Vespa.” It’s the small things that bring home a profound sense of dislocation.

Limelight is like one of those Russian matryoshka dolls, a story within a story within a story. It’s cleverly plotted and fast paced, populated with a variety of interesting characters. A handful are merely two-dimensional types, but many others who are complex and intriguing and fully capable of surprising us. Allison is thoroughly loveable, a bit naïve and trying her best to apply her Texas values of “a square meal, good, motherly advice, and some tough love” to a Kardashian kulture.

The dialogue in Limelight is laugh-aloud funny, ranging from arch to the equivalent of slapstick. “We need you to ensure that for the next eight or nine months,” the Broadway producers explain to Allison, “our very expensive star is a goody-two-shoe, wholesome, mindful, meditating, kelp-eating, oxygen-breathing, nonsmoking, celibate monk.”

Told through Allison’s winsome first-person account, Limelight tells a story of relationships and comfort zones. Allison feels for Carter, seeing past the attitude to an isolated teenager whose worst tendencies are enabled by leeches. She offers kindness and reliability, enabling Carter’s courage to scale new heights because now there’s scaffolding and a softer place to land if he falls.

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