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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 99 | December 28 2008|


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Ash Wednesday

By Ethan Hawke

Sameeha Suraiya

IN a mad dash across America in an ancient Chevy Nova, a troubled couple struggles to find their own centre amidst the sudden flurry of chaos. A compelling, at the same time funny drama of love in our time, 'Ash Wednesday' traces an engaging journey forward into its protagonists' lives. Ethan Hawke, the acclaimed Hollywood actor, known for his intense roles, confirms he is just as much talented in the contemporary literary firmament as he is on screen. After withering reviews of his debut 'The Hottest State', Hawke remains undaunted and follows it up with this road novel, offering a refreshing take on maturity and its perils. A little lackluster at times, the novel is nevertheless a touching read that you would not regret coming across.

The setting is contemporary America, and the hero, Jimmy Heartsock -- 29-year-old college dropout, resident of upstate New York. Jimmy is going AWOL from the army. He is thrown into a character-defining moment and is now re-evaluating his place and purpose of life. His exchange with the mother of a dead Private leaves him emotionally wounded and physically stunned, laying the groundwork for his role in the story. All of a sudden he finds himself thrust into real life. At the age of 30, he's anything but ready for the responsibilities of manhood. We meet Jimmy after he has broken up with his long-time girlfriend simply “out of fear and emotional necessity”. Immediately regretting his action, Jimmy is now chasing across the country in his beat-up Chevy Nova, the sole object he takes full pride in. Having lost Christy and feeling completely out of sorts with life, Jimmy remarks, “The only thing interesting or worthy of remark about me was my car”. The novel's conversational tone and direct exploration of the simple truths of life and love make this tale a downright honest one. It traces a jerky romance from Albany, New York, to New Orleans and Texas in the kind of narrative that is straight, unapologetic and funny.

The novel comes in dual first-person narration by Jimmy and Christy. We meet Christy Walker, and she is terrified. Terrified not only because she is going to have a baby, but that if she stays with Jimmy, she may end up with two. And along with Jimmy, she too confronts a moment when one is forced to ask oneself some very difficult questions. While all that matters to Jimmy is to propose marriage to his lover, all she cares about now is traveling back to Texas and coming to terms with her past, in an attempt to attain the focal point in her life. She is moving back home to escape all that is not working out in her life; including him. Jimmy of course is there to cut into her plans as he goes down on his knee in a frozen car park somewhere on the road to Texas.

Somehow, barreling across America, Christy and Jimmy are transformed from star-crossed lovers unsure of their own destinies into a young family posing questions they have never dared ask before. They confront difficult choices, personal failures, and the occasional cop in tail, resulting in a chaotic mixture of insanity, confusion and humourelements that testify the psyche of young adults. Through a basketball scrimmage with teenage boys, a miscarriage scare and the encounters with an old priest and a blind man, the two grow both equally together and apart. The climax is appropriately reached amidst the dizzying colours and confusion of the Mardi Gras mayhem of New Orleans, It is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. Sprinkled with gentle religious overtones, the climax is racy and not without suspense, leading the couple into a maze that you have to read to find out!

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