Theater is life for a specific subset of people. And it’s not just actors and stage managers—for the professional theater critic, the hours spent after the lights go down are just as sacrosanct. Alexis Soloski’s Here in the Dark follows one such critic, a New York City 30-something who finds herself embroiled in a web of deception, sex and murder.
Vivian Parry has loved the theater since childhood, but after her beloved mother’s death and a subsequent psychotic break, the former actor turned to criticism as a way to engage with her passion from a distance. Vivian’s Manhattan life is completely subsumed by her art: Even as she guns for a promotion at her prestigious magazine, Vivian maintains her isolation, disappearing by day in a haze of words, booze and pills until it’s time for that night’s curtain. When Vivian is interviewed by a graduate student who then goes missing, she’s driven to find out what happened to the enigmatic young man. An undercover stint at a Russian gambling startup, the discovery of a corpse (not his) and a fling with an earnest special effects designer follow, with Vivian drinking more and thinking less as she finds herself no closer to the truth. But as the lines between theater and reality blur, she finds herself asking: Is it all just an act?
Soloski is the best possible candidate to write a protagonist like Vivian. She not only holds a doctorate in theater from Columbia University, but also is an award-winning critic for the New York Times, former lead critic at The Village Voice and a past instructor at Barnard College and Columbia. Her debut novel is chock-full of wry observations about lighting design, references to everyone from Shakespeare to Grotowski, and enough industry inner workings to make the hearts of her fellow theater critics (which this reviewer just so happens to be) sing. For those less drama-obsessed, fear not: Here in the Dark is also a tightly paced and expertly crafted noir whose heroine is both hilariously wisecracking and deeply troubled. From curtain up to curtain call, Here in the Dark is flawless.