Elisabeth Robinson, Author . Little, Brown $23.95 (327p) ISBN 978-0-316-73502-5

Hollywood and leukemia are the two unlikely poles of this wrenching, tragicomic first novel by independent producer and screenwriter Robinson. Pouring out her troubles in epistolary form, 34-year-old Olivia Hunt, a struggling film producer, chronicles a year of dizzying highs and devastating lows. As the novel begins, she receives news that her younger sister, Madeline, recently married and happily settled in the sisters' Ohio hometown, has been diagnosed with leukemia. Olivia herself is at loose ends, trying to jump-start her career by putting together a big-budget production of Don Quixote . Impatient, ambitious and often caustic, Olivia is very different from her big-hearted, big-haired sister, and as she flies back and forth between California and Ohio, she reflects on the choices she has made in long, searching letters to friends and family. Though she and her ex-boyfriend Michael, a painter living in New Mexico, are still in love with each other, they are both too devoted to their careers to settle down together. Just as it seems things might be patched up between them, Don Quixote swings into high gear and Olivia heads off to film in Spain. Her Hollywood adventures are pitch-perfect and hilarious, with Robin Williams ("like a beaver in a sweatshirt and jeans") and Jerry Bruckheimer, among others, making cameos. No less impressive is Robinson's unsentimental chronicling of the progress of Maddie's illness and the alternately heroic and selfish reactions of those around her, including the sisters' mother, an anxious children's book writer, and their father, a retired attorney and alcoholic. Olivia's cynicism, compassion and loyalty come through as funny, real and inspiring, and the novel's epistolary format is smoothly employed. Moving but never maudlin, this is an accomplished debut. 10-city author tour. (Jan. 7)

Forecast: Robinson's novel is clearly autobiographical—her own sister suffered from leukemia, and Robinson herself once worked on a movie project based on Don Quixote (it never got off the ground). The publisher's 100,000-copy printing might seem ambitious, but the story's intensity and honesty should captivate readers. 10-city author tour.

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Show other formats
Paperback - 326 pages - 978-0-316-15936-4
Hardcover - 495 pages - 978-0-7862-6163-5
Hardcover - 235 pages - 978-0-316-13700-3
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