Eddie Hartley thinks that he may have hit his peak in his early twenties. Back then, he was handsome, dating a gorgeous girlfriend and he had even landed a few small acting roles, which should have been his first step on his way to fame.
Now, in his mid-thirties, he is in a rut. He didn't make it in Hollywood and he has given up on his own acting career. Instead, he is a drama teacher at his alma matter, an fancy all-boys private school. He tries to convince himself that teaching the next generation of actors was the role that he was born to do, but internally, he suspects that it's a default position due to the fact that he was never a great actor in the first place. To make matters worse, the beautiful girlfriend that he dated in his twenties, is now a megastar on a hit television show. Even though they broke up years ago, Martha's presence is everywhere. He can't escape her.
Things at home are also not as he planned. Eddie's wife, Susan, desperately wants a child and the couple has blown through their meager savings on fertility treatments that have failed to help.
Eddie is feeling trapped when an old friend comes back into his life with a suggestion. Why not sell an old sex tape that he made with Martha to a tabloid? After all, she broke up with him and the money could be used to finance the fertility treatments. Why not use a piece of his past to secure his future?
Christopher Beha's novel Arts & Entertainments is a hilarious satire of our socities obsession with celebrity culture. What really works is Beha's anti-hero, Eddie. I see Eddie to varying degrees in many people that I know. He wants to do the right thing, but his need for validation from his peers and his desire for fame, makes him often oblivious to the good things that he has in his life. He doesn't look at his wife, steady job or cushy middle-class life, as positives. He is so focused on what he doesn't have, that he makes his life miserable and the standards to which he is measuring himself against, are impossible.
Although Eddie makes a million mistakes and often in the name of self-interest, I still felt compassion for him, because he was realistic and reflected in people that I care about. This was the strongest aspect of Beha's story, his ability to see then ugly truths of our society and make them human.
Arts & Entertainments often had me laughing-out-loud. Beha has a great sense of humor and that reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis. I found the story to be very engaging, until the last quarter of the story, where the resolution fell a bit flat. Honestly, I can't think of a better ending, but it still didn't resonate. It was off.
Overall, I enjoyed the story. Beha has a gift for mirroring the unflattering truths about our society and creating characters that feel real. His quick wit really shines in his writing and makes the story difficult to put down.