Book summary: Ten Days in the Hills

2007 BY JANE SMILEY

A glorious new novel from the Pulitzer Prize winner: a big, smart, bawdy tale of love and war, sex and politics, friendship and betrayal—and the allure of the movies. With Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron as her model, Jane Smiley takes us through ten transformative, unforgettable days in the Hollywood hills.

It is the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards. Max—an Oscar-winning writer/director whose fame has waned—and his lover, Elena, luxuriate in bed, still groggy from last night’s red-carpet festivities. They are talking about movies, talking about love, and talking about the war in Iraq, recently begun. But soon their house will be full of guests, and guests like these demand attention. There is Max’s ex-wife, “the legendary Zoe Cunningham,” a dazzling half-Jamaican movie star, with her new lover, the enigmatic healer, Paul (fraudulent? enlightened?). Max’s agent, Stoney, a perhaps too easygoing version of his legendary agent father, can’t stay away, and neither can Zoe and Max’s daughter, Isabel, though she would prefer to maintain her hard-won independence. And of course there is the next-door neighbor, Cassie, who seems to know everyone’s secrets.

As they share their stories of Hollywood past and present, watch films in Max’s opulent screening room, gossip by the swimming pool, and tussle in the many bedrooms, the tension mounts, sparks fly, and Smiley delivers an exquisitely woven, virtuosic work—a Hollywood novel as only she could fashion it, told with bravura, rich with delightful characters, spiced with her signature wit. It is a joyful, sexy, and wondrously insightful pleasure.

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