By Adam Foulds
Henry Banks, the actor at the center of Adam Foulds’s fourth novel, “Dream Sequence,” has just finished six years on a very popular British TV show, “The Grange,” a “Downton Abbey”-type series. He’s starving himself in the hopes of winning the role of Mike, the ghostly American veteran of the Iraq war in the “genius” director Miguel Garcia’s new film. This is the kind of role that could bring him to the next level. He looks at his face in the mirror, a lot, and reflects on his beauty. “Henry’s face was something everybody had to deal with, to assimilate and get over, even Henry. … His handsomeness could be a shock, as much for him as for others.” One of those such people is Kristin, a divorced, lonely, obsessed fan living in Philadelphia. She once briefly met Henry in an airport, and now writes him long, creepy letters twice a week, though his management keeps the correspondence from him. Better to let Henry focus on Henry, on his potential as an artiste, with maybe an assistant and a private jet.
The celebrity-fan relationship has changed considerably in the past several years, with the emergence of social media and its enabling of virtual interactions in real time. Famous people can respond to our tweets or like our Instagram comments and we suddenly feel connected to them (except for @jordanpeele, who never answers me). For at least that one split second, we imagine they are thinking about us (or their assistant or social media manager is anyway). A lot of lines have been blurred as we observe them inside the celebrity fishbowl behaving, on the internet, “just like us.”
In the one letter that slips through a new assistant and gets to Henry, Kristin writes, “Remember how I told you that soon after we met I was down in St. Thomas and I wrote your name in the sand and drew a heart round it?” Later it pops into his head and Henry thinks: “If fame had taught him anything it was that everybody was mad in that way, in the dark privacy of their thoughts. Fame pulled it out of them like magnets, the weird personal connections, the destinies, the universe wanting things for them, or needing them to go through things first, to help them learn.”
Henry’s a fairly harmless narcissist. He calls his parents, spends time humoring his unsuccessful playwright father’s ambitions to get his script to an agent. He screws around with an affable American model at a press junket in Qatar, but he likes her and ends up seeing her again.
While Henry’s motivations are pretty transparent, Kristin’s are more of a mystery: What brought her to this place? Her marriage has ended, and with that she loses contact with her stepson. She doesn’t have a job, but she’s set financially. There is a sizable void in her life that she fills with Henry — on her TV, via Google alerts tracking his every move, through his Twitter mentions. She even repaints her house to match the colors of the one on “The Grange.” What ultimately causes Kristin to lose her grip on reality isn’t clear, but when she sets off to London to make her and Henry’s relationship real, it is more than a little unnerving.
“Dream Sequence” succeeds as a narrative thanks to Foulds’s prose. He doesn’t waste a single word, is frequently very funny, insightful and surprising. And he does a marvelous job of making us wonder who loves Henry the most, Kristin or Henry — and which of these possibilities is the most alarming consequence of celebrity.
Julie Klam is the author, most recently, of “The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, the Infamous, and Why We Care Way Too Much About Them.”
By Adam Foulds
211 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25.
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