#21(6) reading: the hottest state


Most people my generation have heard of Ethan Hawke, the epitome of intense and pretty. He of Reality Bites, Before Sunrise and a version of Hamlet. No, he won’t be the first actor to branch out to writing, singing or race car driver, and he won’t be the last.

The Hottest State was published in 1996 and was Mr Hawke’s first novel. The state in the title refers to Texas, where the narrator, William, was from. The novel was set in New York, where William had moved to be an actor. One night at a club he met Sarah, who just moved to New York, and coincidentally lived in an apartment opposite William’s. Soon they began a love affair, the sort that people in their early twenties engaged in — tugs-of-war of emotions, co-dependency, and a tendency to talk a lot and not at all about the important matters. She held off having sex with him for the longest time; they went to meet her mother; went away for a week; then she broke up with him.

The second half of the book was about how William tried to get Sarah back, alternating begging and making a fool of himself with being mad at her and life in general. Heartbroken, or so he thought, he tried to find solace with his friend Samantha, and then returned home to look for his father.

It’s a small book, less than 200 pages. The writing is sparse, though it took me a while to get into it. Or rather, I never totally got into it. It is one of those books I like, where there was a story, but not completely overshadowed by the characters and what they thought/felt/did. In terms of nano, it’d be classified as a literary fiction.

Most readers would assume that the book was partially autobiographical. I can’t tell one way or the other, it feels like there’s some of the author in William — that’s always the danger of first person narration. I never warmed to William, he seemed kind of a jerk to me. Sarah said it best,

“You don’t love me.” She was gesturing at the ground. “I could be any girl. This is about you.”
“Everything is a big game of pretend with you. ‘Let’s pretend to get married.’ ‘Let’s pretend I’m gonna be a big country star.’”

Perhaps it’s immaturity, and hopefully by the end he would have taken this heartbreak and grown a little.

I finished the book, then got the dvd immediately on netflix. Some of it seemed clearer in the film, written and directed by Mr Hawke. William was still a jerk, Sarah still lacked self-confidence and they both did not communicate. This is one occasion where I think the film complemented the book.