A Stranger Like You
Elizabeth Brundage
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Buy *A Stranger Like You* by Elizabeth Brundage online

A Stranger Like You
Elizabeth Brundage
Viking
Hardcover
272 pages
August 2010
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Brundage’s novel is a brilliant surprise, the plot a perfect combination of pulp thriller and literary suspense. In Hollywood, where the manufacture of ideas is time-consuming and costly, the author’s damaged protagonists battle it out on the rain-soaked streets of Los Angeles, the hot, white sands of the Middle-East, and the barren deserts of Nevada, where the final devastating denouement comes at a violent price.

A Stranger Like You centers on the mismatched lives of four characters: struggling, emotionally scarred scriptwriter Hugh Waters, who works as an insurance underwriter while waiting for “his real career to kick in;” his arch-nemesis Hedda Chase, the chief executive of Gladiator Films; and Denny, a war veteran recently returned from Iraq, who finds himself unwittingly caught up in the lives of Hugh and Hedda.

This is Hollywood, a hard-working company town where wannabe scriptwriters and studio executives desperately vie for success - especially Hugh, who is furious that Hedda Chase has stepped in and dumped his high-octane action thriller The Adjuster. Inspired by Hugh’s love of classic movies, this five-year labor of love currently lies the bottom of Hedda’s trash bin, a heap of sodden and shredded paper.

For sure, Hedda Chase has a big mouth and her word travels fast in this town. People trust her opinion. Hedda is wise to Hugh; she reads the scripts, the stuff that goes on, and she doesn’t buy his story for one minute. This business about the kidnapping and then parking the car at the airport - “it’s all gangster cliché" with its idiotic premise, not to mention its misogynistic overtones and violence, which in her mind is so "over-the-top."

But Hedda's decision to trash Hugh's film is her first fatal error which culminates in a series of violent action sequences. She never sees Hugh's payback coming, and the exhilaration that Hugh feels in the unanticipated shift in his plan. Hugh doesn’t know what fate has in store for Hedda Chase and he doesn’t particularly care, but he senses that something important has occurred. Hopefully Hedda will survive all bound up in the trunk of her car at LAX. Hopefully someone will hear her cries and free her.

While Hedda is bound and gagged and lies trapped, Hugh prickles with the insinuation of someone who is marginally deranged. Tired of being manipulated by false promises, he rents a sleazy hotel room on Hollywood Boulevard and befriends Annie, a young street girl, just as Denny - his memories of his time in Iraq still fresh in his mind - finds Hedda’s car sitting in the parking lot of LAX, waiting for "a sucker like him."

The dramas play out as Brundage captures the all-consuming desperation of her characters, exhibiting a movie culture riddled with misogyny and irony. It's all about “getting what you want, and what you need.” Like the complicated geography of dance, the fostering of lucrative dreams go hand-in-hand with the uncertainties of life and the chaos of war. At the center of it all, the troubled Hedda and Hugh gaze over the “nickel-plated guilt” of their lives, their fragile existences threatening to collapse under the weight of greed, ambition, chaos, and misery.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2010

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