Knopf. Feb. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9780451494849. $29. F
In this latest from Rea Award winner Bausch (Living in the Weather of the World), a fictional professional theater company based in Memphis is slated to produce King Lear in its newly renovated playhouse. Thaddeus, the company’s managing director, juggles demanding donors, guest directors, and mercurial actors while coping with a heart condition and the growing distance between him and his wife Gina, the company’s resident set designer. Claudette, an actress, fends off the advances of the lecherous TV actor cast as Lear, while also trying to manage care for her ailing father and her relationship with an off-kilter ex-husband. Malcolm, a disgraced local TV anchor cast in the production, struggles to rebuild his life. Overstuffed with characters and subplots, the narrative takes too long to convey any sense of the camaraderie and joy in the creative process that is a key part of theater making. Up until the point where a tragedy upends everything, readers mostly get scenes of sniping, bickering, and outright cruelty among a group of mostly unhappy and unpleasant characters.
VERDICT Set in the early 2010s, prior to the #MeToo era, Bausch’s novel seems to be saying something about predatory men, but it’s unclear where he stands on the subject, and there is no real payoff to that story thread.
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