Ash Wednesday
by Ethan Hawke, contemporary (2002)
Knopf, $22.95, ISBN 0-375-41326-X


Poor Ethan Hawke. Too pretty to hang out with the credible crowd he seems to want to be in, too uncool for the cooler popular crowd, he invites further mockery with his apparently sincere belief in his hammy Generation X philosophy. In his thirties now, he's way too old to be writing about such showy angst that, at last count, is 10 years outdated. But this is just what Ash Wednesday is - a more grown-up exposition of his horrendously cheesy writing debut The Hottest State, but still a Gen X paean all the same.

Staff Sgt Jimmy Heartstock decides to risk court martial by going AWOL. His reason? To catch up with his fed-up girlfriend Christy before she succeeds in leaving him completely. This story is basically Christy's trip and thoughts interspersed with Jimmy's, and the adventures they have that will lead to they discovering True, Cool Love. Along the way, I get to know Jimmy's issues (drunk, nasty late dad who committed suicide) and Christy's (mummy, where are you, my mummy oh mummy?).

It's not much of a story, and at its slim length, probably I shouldn't be expecting much. This story is more palatable and grown up than the ultra-cheesy The Hottest State, but it is still littered with throwaway philosophy about love, angst, and youth that are best left behind with Reality Bites, one of Hawkes' breakthrough movies that have echoing sentiments to this baby.

This book is readable and too easily forgotten, leaving little impact on me. Hawke's attempt at wit and cool cynicism are what makes him the target of derision from most people: judging from his books and his movies, he really seems to embody the teeth-gritting Gen X posturing of his many movie roles. Matthew Broderick and Kurt Cobain's bastard son, if you will. Whether he's sincere or not, he does come off as a pretentious twat despite his best intentions, and Ash Wednesday at the end of the day feels like a pretentious twatty populi novel masquerading as a work of deep philosophy. Nothing wrong with populi novels, of course, but... jeesh.

You want the best of Ethan Hawke? Stick to Gattaca, Hamlet, or Training Day if you're desperate and can't find the first two. Video rental is always cheaper than hardcover books, after all.

Rating: 70


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