Many actors end up trying their hand as novelists or short story writers — a not totally inconsistent side career, considering that their work often immerses them in fictional worlds, and some are also screenwriters. But some are more successful at it than others.
The latest celebrity fiction comes from Ethan Hawke, 50, the Boyhood actor who was nominated for two Oscars as cowriter of the Richard Linklater films Before Sunset and Before Midnight (and won an AARP Movies for Grownups award for the latter). He also helped create and write and stars in the 2020 Showtime miniseries The Good Lord Bird, for which he has been nominated for a Movies for Grownups best actor award. And he wrote a 2015 novel, Rules for a Knight.
Now he’s penned an excellent full-length novel, A Bright Ray of Darkness, that’s so personal it almost reads like a memoir. Its leading man is a 32-year-old Hollywood hotshot named William Harding, who takes on his first Broadway role, Hotspur in Henry IV (the same role Hawke played in 2003), in an attempt to redeem himself from a failing marriage, distant kids and a fracturing mental state. It’s smart and entertaining — a vivid insider look at celebrity, moviemaking, and the theater world.
Other fiction by actors runs the gamut, from wonderful to kind of weird. Here’s a roundup:
Truly Like Lightning (2021)
by David Duchovny
Think of Duchovny, 60, and you think of the Golden Globe award-winning star of The X-Files and Californication. But he’s also a superb rock ‘n’ roller who’s released three albums, a theater actor, and a novelist (Holy Cow, Bucky F*cking Dent and Miss Subways). His fourth, Truly Like Lightning, released in January, is an exuberant story of an ex-Hollywood stuntman who becomes a Mormon and goes off in the desert with his sister wives to raise his kids in a private utopia. But when a greedy real estate agent threatens to take his land, they cut a deal: Put three of his kids into public school, and if they don’t turn out better, she will go away. It’s a mischievously good novel about mothers and sons, dads and sons, ethics, spirituality and so much more.
Postcards From the Edge (1987)
by Carrie Fisher
Fisher, who died in 2016, was as talented a novelist as she was an actress. Postcards is autobiographical: The author’s alter ego is Suzanne Vale, a young woman struggling through drug rehabilitation and trying to make sense of her life. Written as a series of vignettes (some are inner monologues of a cocaine addict and quite harrowing), it’s different from the titular movie — maybe because that movie also featured a version of Fisher’s real-life mom, Debbie Reynolds, played by Shirley MacLaine. It’s wonderful, like Fisher herself — acerbic, funny, warm and heartbreaking all at once.
SIMON & SCHUSTER
When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories (2012)
by Molly Ringwald
Who can forget the young 1980s actress Molly Ringwald, 52, star of era-defining classics such as Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club? Part of her charm was her vulnerability, and that quality is evident in this novel-in-stories about love, loss and relationships — particularly as they occur for a Southern California couple whose marriage is fraying at the seams amidst infidelity. Ringwald is a serious writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Esquire and elsewhere, but these eight stories don’t offer enough action to reveal how the characters are evolving (instead, they simply muse on their problems), so it is hard to stay involved.
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX
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Memoirs and Misinformation (2020)
by Jim Carrey
Said Carrey, 59, of his book, “None of this is real and all of this is true,” and he’s right. At first the outrageously silly and manically paced story seems like a memoir because, after all, the character is called Jim Carrey. But is it the real Jim Carrey? Maybe. Maybe not. The Jim Carrey in the book, written with Dana Vachon, is famous and beloved, wealthy and privileged, but something isn’t quite right. He’s getting fat and having a kind of midlife crisis, wondering if his best days are behind him. But then he gets offered the role of a lifetime (or is it?) and meets Georgie, the love of his life (or is she?). Meanwhile, the actor contends with various bizarre obstacles including (spoiler alert!) an alien invasion by killer robots.
ALFRED A. KNOPF
Uncommon Type: Some Stories (2017)
by Tom Hanks
Another renaissance man, Academy Award-winner Hanks, 64, directs and acts, as well as writes. It’s probably not surprising, considering his reputation as a Really Nice Guy, but his stories are Really Nice Guy Stories — written well enough, but not really memorable. The fun is that Hanks collects antique typewriters and each story features one of them, and the stories are also full of showbiz material and some may even remind you of the movies he’s made (“Christmas 1953” is pure Saving Private Ryan).
by Steve Martin
Many might think of Steve Martin, 75, as that “wild and crazy guy” with a fake arrow through his head, but he’s actually both a fine, serious actor (The Spanish Prisoner) and an eloquent, moving writer (author of the play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, among many other works). In this novella, a young shopgirl falls for a wealthy older man who treats her right, yet breaks her heart, even as she is navigating a relationship with a boy more her age. It’s a coming-of-age story for both the girl and the older man, who begins to realize all that he loses when he turns his heart to ice. The achingly beautiful novel became an equally gorgeous film, starring Martin.
Should you read it? Definitely.