By Darren Smith
Published April 2006
Date reviewed: March 20, 2007
Originally published at: BookReview.com
Can an actor make it in the real world? This is a question Darren Smith tries to answer in two ways in his latest novel “Shadow’s Bliss.”
Daniel Bliss is, like most New York City actors, struggling to make ends meet with a combination of off-Broadway shows and waiting tables. A chance encounter in a bar leads him to try out a new market: real-life roles, playing significant other to a host of image-conscious New Yorkers for $1,000 a day plus expenses.
Smith, a Hell’s Kitchen native, is clearly familiar with his subject – the book contains several horror stories of auditions and part-time jobs – but the book’s main flaw is he lets this familiarity replace what could have been a dramatic tale. Bliss’ real-life acting is pushed to the side in favor of dealing with New York life, centered on his crew of neurotic one-dimensional friends. The divorce from the plot is further enhanced by chapters written in the form of acting lectures, which make the book seem less like a novel and more a guide for struggling actors.
This pace drags on through the book so much that when the plot eventually changes, introducing seduction of a friend’s ex-girlfriend and an entanglement with the Russian Mafia, it feels like Smith himself got bored with the story and decided to switch gears. Unfortunately, the move to thriller does not blend with the rest of the story, as Daniel shows no personal growth from one act to the other beyond fear at being in over his head.
Smith does manage to create a reasonable conclusion to the book, but its tying up of loose ends isn’t enough to fix the sense of disconnect its change of pace leaves.
At one point in the book, Bliss complains about films “where the premise alone gets you through the door, but the end product is more than disappointing” – a line that fits the feeling of the book perfectly. “Shadow’s Bliss” may find a following among New York actors who recognize their own issues mirrored, but the majority of readers will lose interest by the halfway point.