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‘The Hottest State’ by Ethan Hawke: Book Review, Or, Can Actors Write?

Updated on August 4, 2012

Do you feel just a little sceptical when you hear of one of your favourite actors has written a book?  (Or announced a few dates with her band.  Or come up with a cure for cancer in the lab in his garden shed).  Why is it that actors always do want to be ‘taken seriously’?  (And why is it that they seem to assume that acting couldn’t possibly be ‘serious’?) 

christopherharte on Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
christopherharte on Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) | Source

Certainly the end results are often embarrassing if not downright painful.  I’m not going to name names here – let’s cover up their shame in a great big cloak of invisibility – but there are some truly awful actor-bands out there.  And quite a number of terrible actor’s books. 


On the other hand, there’s always the odd virtuous exception.  I can’t claim to have read it myself, but Hugh Laurie’s fictional tale of gun-running and misbehaviour is generally attested to be a work of quite acceptable entertainment.  And although I  haven’t heard the actual record, anyone M. Ward is willing to record with must have some degree of talent and ability, even if it’s Zooey Deschanel.

One exception regarding the ineptitude of actorly forays into other areas of endeavour I do have personal experience of, however, is Ethan Hawke’s ‘The Hottest State’. It’s not a recent book, but it’s a reliable and fairly unarguable example of, what? An actor turning out a decent, readable novel, at minimum. Maybe a bit more than that.

The story concerns the meeting and romance between William, a young, fairly successful actor, and Sarah, a shy pre-school teacher. It’s emotionally intense, frustrating and affected in expression, rather like a lot of young love and young lovers. Published in 1996 by Little, Brown and Company, it had a powerful effect on me on first reading, and several subsequent re-readings at the time.

Not only that, but my prospective other half at the time was reading it too, though I didn't know that. And in one of the early conversations of our relationship, he observed to me that he had recently read a book that had had an intense, profoundly emotional effect on him. That’s it. No other clues! Out of all the other books in the world, I came up with the suggestion, ‘So, was it the Hottest State? Ethan Hawke?’

OOO-EEEE-OOO! Spooky huh? Of course, it was recently published, critically lauded, a popular choice… oh forget it. Out of thousands, tens, hundreds of thousands of books! It was well spooky!

So, how does ‘The Hottest State’ fare on reading many years later, with time and perspective to give a more balanced view of its merits and faults? I’ve recently come back to it for a further skim through and exploration, and come to the conclusion that the novel still holds its own and has real attractions. It’s just not quite as perfect as I remember it: Sarah just that little bit more new-agey and annoying, the emotional responses and expectations of the reader just a little heavily directed and elicited. But still, pretty damn good!

You know. For an actor.

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