cover image ASH WEDNESDAY


Ethan Hawke, . . Knopf, , $22.95 (221pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41326-1

Sure he can act (and direct), but can he write? Readers and critics remained undecided after the publication of Hawke's first novel, The Hottest State, but most will respond with an encouraging "yes" to his enjoyable second novel, which melds believable youthful introspection to a catchy road-novel plot. Jimmy Heartsock, AWOL from the army, and his pregnant girlfriend, Christy, are the young couple caught between love and disillusionment whose path to self-discovery is punctuated by passion ("This girl had a friggin' fireball for a heart") as well as endearing quirkiness. Jimmy is posted in Albany, N.Y., and waffling in his affections, when Christy gives him an ultimatum: she's going home to Texas and he can either come with her or forget about seeing her again. Taking the biggest gamble of his life, he decides to make the drive with her in his old Chevy Nova, risking dishonorable discharge. Christy, who is afraid to face who she is ("Good morning, fear.... You are my oldest friend") and only feels calm when she is moving, steps on her own path to self-renewal after meeting a blind man on a bus who speaks of change and the possibility of transcendence through God. The two protagonists must each learn to step out of themselves, find "gratitude in the face of loss or suffering" and submit to a love that is attuned to reality before they can find a home with and for each other. Hawke's text at times reads raw, but the novel's conversational tone, dual first-person narration and, above all, direct exploration of the simple truths of life and love make this a worthwhile tale and an honest one, sufficient to make most readers look forward to Hawke's next. (July 23)

Forecast:Hawke proves himself with this sophomore effort, which should easily sell out its 100,000 first printing. Beware crushes (in both senses) on his 11-city author tour. Major ad/promo.