Ten Days in the Hills

Ten Days in the Hills

2.51 (1,592 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

On the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards, Max - an Oscar-winning writer/director whose fame has waned - and his lover, Elena, are in bed, still groggy from last night's red-carpet festivities. They are talking about movies, talking about love, talking about the just-begun war in Iraq. But their house full of guests demands attention. Gathered downstairs are: Max's ex-wife, 'the legendary Zoe Cunningham,' a dazzling half-Jamaican movie star; their strong-willed daughter, Isabel; Max's agent, Stoney, a too-easy-going version of his now-departed agent father; Paul, Zoe's new lover, an enigmatic healer; and a coterie of others. Over the next ten days they share their stories of Hollywood past and present, their fears provoked by the Iraq war; they watch films in Max's luxury screening room; they gossip by the swimming pool and tussle in the many bedrooms, as the tension mounts and sparks fly.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 500 pages
  • 161 x 237 x 37mm | 720g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Main
  • 0571235336
  • 9780571235339
  • 1,573,224

Review quote

"A tour de force novel that showcases [Smiley's] vast cinematic lore, reminding us why she has earned a reputation as one of the greatest entertainers in American letters. In "Ten Days in the Hills," Smiley cleverly borrows the narrative set-up of Boccaccio's "Decameron" to allow her readers to eavesdrop on a 10-day house party among members of Hollywood's second-string players. . . . [A] marathon of Woody Allen-like conversations . . . and Oscar-worthy dialogue . . . witty enough to keep readers chuckling . . . The thinking person's "Big Chill." . . . Throughout her career Smiley has demonstrated a genius for thrusting readers straight into the heart of her characters' emotions, and this time it feels as if she's adjusted the lens and taken us in for an even closer look. Just how does she make us care so deeply for these people? . . . Readers will be amazed."-Andrea Hoag, "The AARP Magazine" "["Ten Days in the Hills "is full of] merriment, movies and mating, and, in tone, is akin to [Smiley's] lively and humorous "Moo." But careful readers might notice, at times, a touch of sadness beneath the mirthful atmosphere. . . . Smiley's rich prose manages to turn a simple kiss into something wondrously poetic. . . [Her] artistic facility with prose and creating scenes is evident. . . . [The] stories and conversations are as colorful as [the characters'] backgrounds. . . . Through flashbacks and dinner party stories and revelations, Smiley peels back the layers that have been buffering the relationships of all gathered during [the] 10 days [over which the novel takes place]. . . . A sharp-edged comedy of manners."-Dorman T. Shindler, "The Denver Post" "A talky, bawdy book that says a lot about Hollywood and even more about the humanness of the 21st century American . . . Smiley has taken a step toward rejecting the traditional novel's story arc and instead moved toward a form that is both old and new. It's all about the story . . . Ultimately, her mess " Sprawling, languid, randy . . . Smiley allows us to become Peeping Toms, literary voyeurs, as we eavesdrop on the conversations [of her characters]. "Ten Days in the Hills" is a novel, and a shimmering one at that, of social observations, archly written and mordantly funny. The dialogue, too, sparkles, even bristles . . . . Smiley's Los Angeles is the L.A. of legend, the glamorous city of movie stars, palm trees and sandy beaches, where everyone is beautiful, or wants to be, or dies trying. She captures, too, the way the people in the movie industry talk about movies . . . In fact, [her characters] talk about movies all the time- the movies that they have seen, the movies that they have worked on, the movies that they would like to make, and they even fantasize about which movie stars should portray them on the big screen . . . One of the pleasures of the book, and there are many of them, is listening in on other people's conversations." - June Sawyers, "San Francisco Chronicle" " Seductive . . . Ambitious, subtle and enigmatic . . . A delicate portrait of a Hollywood film director and his oddly assorted friends and family, this story unfolds in the bonds and conflicts of that marvelous cast of characters . . . . Where Boccaccio's lords and ladies hid out from the Black Death's onslaught, Smiley's Hollywood characters act out their tensions and resentments during the opening days of the Iraq war. Smiley is just as successful as the Renaissance master at creating an enthralling mini-world that speaks for a time and place . . . The reader is drawn into caring about the relationships, the dreams and even the fetishes ofthe characters as their back stories are revealed so cleverly. One theme of the book is the power of film to tell a story. Smiley's prose enables the reader to visualize richly in this cinematic mode. Her craftsmanship is extraordinary and not just art for art's sake. The characters are utterly real, and their interactions explore a world of ideas as well as friendship and farcical sex . . . Despite the pain and loneliness, this vision of human life makes room for possibilities. It even makes room for the greatest possibility of all, love. Smiley, a recent recipient of the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature, is a masterful writer at the top of her game here. Like a classic film, the book stays with you after the screen goes dark." - Chris Wiegard, "Richmond Times-Dispatch" " Soaring . . . Sharp, erotic, artful . . . an American "Decameron," As in Boccaccio's 14th-century tales, a little group from a dominant cultural elite decamps to the hills and each guest in turn weaves nightly a story from his or her life . . . Smiley's [characters] are extraordinarily sensitive to their culture, alive to every nuance of beauty and deceit, witty, graceful, desperate to care and preposterously vain. She moves in and out of their heads and stories like the ideal hostess, wearing just the hint of a smile . . . narcissism is never punctured and rarely challenged, simply held up to the light . . . Smiley carefully resists judgment. "Ten Days in the Hills" has the recognizable emotional intelligence of the author's masterpiece "A Thousand Acres," though the territorial imperatives here are mostly bodily ones. I have never thought ofher as a particularly sexual novelist, but here her prose circles light-fingered over the flesh of each of her characters in turn, with an Updikean verve. Some of these couplings are very funny . . . others are as priapic as anything in Boccaccio. Always, like her medieval model, Smiley is playfully obsessed with the moral implications of the pursuit of love . . . [A] typical Smiley sentence [tends] to expand like ripples on the surface of one of David Hockney's Bel-Air swimming pools . . . Wonderful." - Tim Adams, "The Guardian "(UK) " Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley has often served up a side dish of sex . . . In her new novel, "Ten Days in the Hills," however, Smiley makes sex the entree, describing the characters' numerous couplings with gleeful detail . . . . Smiley doesn't know how to write a bad sentence . . . [She] spreads the insights around." - Jenny Shank, "Rocky Mountain News" " Like the "Decameron," Smiley's new novel is part erotic, comic romp; part satire; and part war protest . . . The dominant mood of [the characters] Max and Elena's pillow-talk feels like a classical painting: the simple intimacy and comfort, the light, the colors, the curves of bodies. And this sets the tone for similarly radiant and voluptuous scenes . . . . Smiley satirically makes Hollywood a cultural center of art [and] writes clever and compelling dialogue. She also propels the momentum by telling us volatile secrets, the time bombs in any intimate group . . . The intercourse isn't just social. Each of the 10 days includes an explicitly- and sometimes minutely- described sex scene, interspersed with talk, as if sex were its own conversation . . . In spite of the laughs and titillating scenes, Smiley, like Boccaccio, seems to be making a moral statement about liberty in repressive times: the erotic- in its physical or written form- as political transgression. For a brief moment in time, Hollywood becomes human, smart, full of creative potential. Ten people get closer to their own truths . . . . Be free, Smiley exhorts us: play, create, transgress, eat, drink, cry, make love (not war) and above all, talk to each other." - Wendy L. Smith, "The San Diego Union-Tribune" " Sly and savory. What makes the novel sizzle is Smiley's knowing way with Hollywood [and] its fetishes . . . Few books in my reading history have been so lushly, smartly visual . . . "Ten Days in the Hills" is challenging and exhilarating and forgiving of the human condition. I can think of no better book to read in the days before the Academy Awards." - Karen Long, "Cleveland Plain Dealer" " ["Ten Days in the Hills" has] a lot of talk and a lot of sex. Something for everyone . . . The satiric potential is obvious, and Smiley exploits it. Yet she also gives her characters depth and plausibility . . . The 10 days we spend in the hills with them aren't wasted, and there are some brightly comic moments, [and] some poignant ones." - Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News " Delectable . . . Masterly . . . Full of tenderness, introspection and serious debate . . . Five men and five women gather in a hilltop mansion in Los Angeles. The Iraq War has just begun, but because they would prefer not talking about it (if they could only stop thinking about it), they watch movies (of course, because they're in the home of a famous director) and they tell stories- dozens of them, intricate, funny, revealing, bizarre, risque . When they're not talking, most of them keep busy copulating. There's so much sex in "Ten Days in the Hills," and it's so explicit that the question arises: Is this porn? I' d say no . . . [My] mind was hardly so mesmerized by the sex that I forgot the virtuosity of the writing. (I've never read such splendid renderings of kisses, of the sensation of kissing.) Smiley's descriptions are more than graphic: They're so closely observed that without the transforming power of art they would be clinical. The art, however, is of a high order . . . . This is a novel about youth and age, sex and love, privilege and war, longing and the making of art, and Smiley approaches it with wisdom . . . George Eliot, if she could get past all the sex (a big if), would smile on this book." - Craig Seligman, Bloomberg.com " Luxurious . . . The extremely talented and ever-surprising Jane Smiley models her lustrous [new] novel, "Ten Days in the Hills," on Boccaccio's "Decameron" with the same confident grace that she built "A Thousand Acres" on the framework of "King Lear," Again, she deftly transposes the central themes and rich atmosphere of a literary classic to contemporary America, but this time with very different results. "Ten Days in the Hills" is as sunny and indolent as "A Thousand Acres" was brooding . . . [In "Ten Days in the Hills"] Smiley writes about [talking and making love] with gusto . . . [Amid] the chat and canoodling, as in real life, you later perceive that tectonic shifts in the various relationships have quietly occurred." - Jennifer Reese, "Entertainment Weekly," Grade: A- " If Jane Smiley's new Hollywood novel, "Ten Days in the Hills," were an actual Hollywood movie, the pitch might go like this: ten characters spend ten days in the foothills of LA, eating drinking, talking fighting, having lots of graphic sex, arguing about the war in Iraq, and telling stories . . . lots and lots of stories: ghost stories, real estate tales, Hollywood gossip, movie plots, love gone right, love gone wrong . . . Smiley [also] lampoons plenty of Hollywood buffoonery. And there's this gem about Lawrence of Arabia: ' I couldn't stand the idea of this blond guy schlepping through the desert without any sunblock.' " - Veronique de Turenne, "Day to Day / National Public Radio" " Daring, dazzling . . . Riveting . . . [In "Ten Days in the Hills"] Jane Smiley contemplate[s] morality and sexuality . . . [as she] follows a group of California ' beautiful people' holed up in Hollywood in the early days of the Iraq War, wondering about the future and one another." - Rebecca Barry, "More" magazine " Jane Smiley goes Hollywood in "Ten Days in the Hills," It captures the resonating glitterand " A modern-day "Decameron" . . . a Hollywood talkfest in which the talk ranges widely but keeps reverting to the Iraq war and the movie business. The acknowledgments at the book's end thank 'every director and commentator on every DVD who bothered to add Special Features, ' and there can be no doubt that Smiley, whose previous novels have abundantly shared information on farming, horses, real estate, and medieval Scandinavian settlements in Greenland, has done her DVD research with characteristic thoroughness. Movies-classic and obscure, real and imaginary-pepper the conversation. At the end of . . . Smiley's capacious new novel, the reader is reluctant to leave . . . . The ten chapters are named for ten successive days . . . . Each chapter is roughly half talk and half sex. The sexual descriptions set a new mark for explicitness in a work of non-pornographic intent. Smiley works in close focus, and from a male as well as female point of view. Physical facts and sensations are not stinted . . . Smiley has put herself on the edge . . . replacing plot and suspense with something freer and more lifelike-casual talk that creates a lattice of cross-purpose in which emotions and attractions extend their tendrils . . . The funniest, most outrageous, and most revelatory sex scene occurs with a type rather new to American fiction's provinces, a post-Communist Russian, saucily enriching the free world with her native energy and bluntness . . . her blithe sluttiness . . . The twists of libido are wound into a cultural exchange, and the anatomy of our inward hollows is illuminated to surprising and comic effect . . . . In "The Decameron," Boccaccio conjures up an idyll ofcivilized society that is all delight and abundance and beauty. "Ten Days in the Hills" achieves a kindred richness." -John Updike, "The New Yorker" "The reigning master of social satire pens a wicked and heartfelt portrait of stars, semicelebrities, and sybarit es . . . The beauty of Smiley's garrulous new novel is that it sublimates polemics in a breezy narrative upon which she has liberally bestowed her trademark gifts: deft characterization, uncanny psychological naturalism, polymathic curiosity, and an astonishing ability to inhabit a given milieu as if it's been bred in her very bones (in this case, the Hollywood Hills). Smiley models her tale on Boccaccio's "Decameron"-only instead of waiting out the bubonic plague at an Italian villa, her 10 storytellers gather during the opening days of the Iraq war . . . What ensues? Robust, Boccaccian sex. (Jane! Who knew?) Gourmet food. Jokes. Hollywood lore. Imaginary movies. Endless musings about theology, books, art, life. And a Fellini-esque denouement at a Russian robber baron's world-class estate nearby. Are the digressions and bedroom farces merely passing hallucinations, or are they, like iron filings, indiscernibly organizing themselves around some principle whose emergence we await with often euphoric anticipation? You find out: It's worth the trip." -Ben Dickinson, "Elle" magazine, lead review "Smiley has a gift for entwining eroticism with humanism and sparkling wit to form deliciously complex and slyly satirical fiction. And what opulent realms she loots: academia, horse racing, real estate, and now Hollywood. Here Smiley crafts dialogue every bit as provocative as her detailed sex scenes, and, once again, makes ingenious use of a literary antecedent, this time using as a template Boccaccio's "Decameron." While Boccaccio's group of 10 women and men hope to escape the Black Death by sequestering themselves for 10 days in a villa outside Florence, Smiley quarantines her characters in a mansion high in the hills of Hollywood as the U.S. invades Iraq. Ensconced in luxury if plagued with moral quandaries, they sort out complex family and romantic relationships and argue over the war . . . Each thorny character has an intriguing backstory, feelings run high, and Smiley is regally omnipotent as she advocates for art, objects to war, and considers tricky questions of power and spirit, love and compassion. Archly sexy and brilliant." -Donna Seaman, "Booklist" (starred, boxed review) "Smiley goes Hollywood in this scintillating tale of an extended Decameron-esque L.A. House party. Gathering at the home of washed-up director Max the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards are his Iraq-obsessed girlfriend, Elena; his movie-diva ex-wife Zoe and her yoga-instructor--cum--boyfriend Paul; Max's insufferably PC daughter, Isabel, and his feckless agent, Stoney, who are conducting a secret affair; Zoe's oracular mother, Delphine; and Max's boyhood friend and Republican irritant Charlie. They watch movies, negotiate their clashing diets and health regimens, indulge in a roundelay of lasciviously detailed sexual encounters and, most of all, talk-holding beguiling conversations about movies, Hollywood, relationships, the war and the state of the world. Through it all, they compulsively reimagine daily life as art . . . Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet shetreats her characters, their concerns with compelling surfaces and their perpetual quest to capture reality through artifice, with warmth and seriousness." -"Publishers Weekly" (starred review) "The reigning master of social satire pens a wicked and heartfelt portrait of stars, semicelebrities, and sybarit es . . . The beauty of Smiley's garrulous new novel is that it sublimates polemics in a breezy narrative upon which she has liberally bestowed her trademark gifts: deft characterization, uncanny psychological naturalism, polymathic curiosity, and an astonishing ability to inhabit a given milieu as if it's been bred in her very bones (in this case, the Hollywood Hills). Smiley models her tale on Boccaccio's "Decameron"-only instead of waiting out the bubonic plague at an Italian villa, her 10 storytellers gather during the opening days of the Iraq war . . . What ensues? Robust, Boccaccian sex. (Jane! Who knew?) Gourmet food. Jokes. Hollywood lore. Imaginary movies. Endless musings about theology, books, art, life. And a Fellini-esque denouement at a Russian robber baron's world-class estate nearby. Are the digressions and bedroom farces merely passing hallucinations, or are they, like iron filings, indiscernibly organizing themselves around some principle whose emergence we await with often euphoric anticipation? You find out: It's worth the trip." -Ben Dickinson, "Elle" magazine, lead review "Smiley has a gift for entwining eroticism with humanism and sparkling wit to form deliciously complex and slyly satirical fiction. And what opulent realms she loots: academia, horse racing, real estate, and now Hollywood. Here Smiley crafts dialogue every bit as provocative as her detailed sex scenes, and, once again, makes ingenious use of a literary antecedent, this time using as a template Boccaccio's "Decameron." While Boccaccio's group of 10 women and men hope to escapethe Black Death by sequestering themselves for 10 days in a villa outside Florence, Smiley quarantines her characters in a mansion high in the hills of Hollywood as the U.S. invades Iraq. Ensconced in luxury if plagued with moral quandaries, they sort out complex family and romantic relationships and argue over the war . . . Each thorny character has an intriguing backstory, feelings run high, and Smiley is regally omnipotent as she advocates for art, objects to war, and considers tricky questions of power and spirit, love and compassion. Archly sexy and brilliant." -Donna Seaman, "Booklist" (starred, boxed review) "Smiley goes Hollywood in this scintillating tale of an extended Decameron-esque L.A. House party. Gathering at the home of washed-up director Max the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards are his Iraq-obsessed girlfriend, Elena; his movie-diva ex-wife Zoe and her yoga-instructor--cum--boyfriend Paul; Max's insufferably PC daughter, Isabel, and his feckless agent, Stoney, who are conducting a secret affair; Zoe's oracular mother, Delphine; and Max's boyhood friend and Republican irritant Charlie. They watch movies, negotiate their clashing diets and health regimens, indulge in a roundelay of lasciviously detailed sexual encounters and, most of all, talk-holding beguiling conversations about movies, Hollywood, relationships, the war and the state of the world. Through it all, they compulsively reimagine daily life as art . . . Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet she treats her characters, their concerns with compelling surfaces and their perpetual quest to capture reality through artifice, with warmth and seriousness."-"Publishers Weekly" (starred review) " Smiley goes Hollywood in this scintillating tale of an extended "Decameron"-esque L.A. House party. Gathering at the home of washed-up director Max the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards are his Iraq-obsessed girlfriend, Elena; his movie-diva ex-wife Zoe and her yoga-instructor-- cum-- boyfriend Paul; Max's insufferably PC daughter, Isabel, and his feckless agent, Stoney, who are conducting a secret affair; Zoe's oracular mother, Delphine; and Max's boyhood friend and Republican irritant Charlie. They watch movies, negotiate their clashing diets and health regimens, indulge in a roundelay of lasciviously detailed sexual encounters and, most of all, talk- holding beguiling conversations about movies, Hollywood, relationships, the war and the state of the world. Through it all, they compulsively reimagine daily life as art . . . Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet she treats her characters, their concerns with compelling surfaces and their perpetual quest to capture reality through artifice, with warmth and seriousness." - "Publishers Weekly" (starred review) "Smiley goes Hollywood in this scintillating tale of an extended "Decameron"-esque L.A. House party. Gathering at the home of washed-up director Max the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards are his Iraq-obsessed girlfriend, Elena; his movie-diva ex-wife Zoe and her yoga-instructor--cum--boyfriend Paul; Max's insufferably PC daughter, Isabel, and his feckless agent, Stoney, who are conducting a secret affair; Zoe's oracular mother, Delphine; and Max's boyhood friend and Republican irritant Charlie. They watch movies, negotiate their clashing diets and health regimens, indulge in a roundelay of lasciviously detailed sexual encounters and, most of all, talk-holding beguiling conversations about movies, Hollywood, relationships, the war and the state of the world. Through it all, they compulsively reimagine daily life as art . . . Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet she treats her characters, their concerns with compelling surfaces and their perpetual quest to capture reality through artifice, with warmth and seriousness." -"Publishers Weekly" (starred review)
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About Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is the author of eleven novels, as well as four works of non-fiction. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. She lives in Northern California.
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Rating details

1,592 ratings
2.51 out of 5 stars
5 5% (78)
4 15% (241)
3 30% (480)
2 26% (412)
1 24% (381)
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