Hollywood and Hardwood

by Tricia Bauer

Published by Bridge Works Publishing

192 pages, April 1999


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Avoiding Cacophony

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


The narrative of Tricia Bauer's Hollywood and Hardwood could be seen as a road map to cacophony. The work reads like a collection of short stories -- two of the chapters were, in fact, originally published as short fiction though in a different form. Each chapter is independent yet chronological in the lives of Lou and Renata, a couple whose love outweighs the sharpest challenges from their respective professions. Lou is an aspiring playwright and Renata is an actress who appears in the summer stock production of one of his early plays. The writing is so spare and penetrating that we're given this background in four or five pages. It's given to us with concision and -- yet -- we understand completely.

Even as I was kissing you, I knew I didn't want you to be the way my life would change. I needed the audience to catch up with my ambition, propel me out onto the huge arena where the applause never quits. And yet the intense connection between us pressed me to give everything to it.

Not only are the chapters independent, but the viewpoint for each one changes. Chapter one, for instance, is written in the first person. But more: it is written as though Renata were writing to Lou:

When I first spotted you in White Birch Lodge, you were opening an old refrigerator made sometime deep in the 50s and sliding in a couple of six-packs. The beers were icy and sleek, exotic against the growing heat of late morning. You were the playwright; I was the actress, and this was summer stock in Vermont.

Chapter two is still Renata's voice, but now she speaks of Lou, not to him. Other chapters are told in Lou's voice, and some are told by an omnipresent narrator.

To tell it here sounds like madness. It sounds like a book guaranteed to give you a headache and -- quite possibly -- in the hands of a less talented writer, cacophony is precisely what we'd have. Bauer, however, does more than merely pull it off. The story is convincing in many ways, and one of the things you become convinced of is that this was, perhaps, the only way to tell this story.

It's a good story, too. In some ways even a love story, though the love comes early and remains perhaps the only unchallenged thing in the work. This element is refreshing: in a literary world filled with broken promises and unfulfilled expectations, Lou and Renata remain deeply -- almost heroically -- in love throughout the two decades that the story covers.

While their romance remains intact, we follow them through triumphs and disappointments in their careers as well as the bittersweet taste that looking over our shoulders at paths not taken can bring.

The story is so convincing and the characters so believable that the ending -- to my mind -- is trite and even a bit of a cop-out. I stress to my mind because not everyone would feel that way. But there seems to me to a bit of giving up and selling out and taking the route most traveled in this conclusion: and it's not necessarily a conclusion dictated by the path the narrative takes.

Still, Hollywood and Hardwood remains a masterful work. Bauer's spare and eloquent language is a delight. Boondocking, her previous novel -- also published by Bridge Works -- will be reprinted by St. Martin's Press in April: the same month that Hollywood and Hardwood is due to appear on bookseller's shelves. Bauer is a writer who will merit watching. | January 1999

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.