A Theater Critic in the Performance of Her Life (and Maybe Death)
A Spotlight on Author Alexis Soloski
By Neil Nyren
In Alexis Soloski’s HERE IN THE DARK, Vivian Parry is a former actress and now junior theater critic for a New York magazine. She has secrets in her past, she is not eating or sleeping well, and her defenses are always up. Until she meets David Adler.
A grad student, Adler wants to interview her for his thesis and, as an incentive, offers her an opportunity that might just get her enough public attention to win her the senior spot at the magazine, so she figures it’s worth her time: “I ready a self that’s warm, witty, friendly, like a less alcoholic Dorothy Parker. I can play it for an hour.”
She will have to play it for much more than that. Immediately, events start to cascade down. After their meeting, Adler suddenly disappears. His fiancé calls, insisting that Parry knows something. A private investigator starts sniffing around. A dead body turns up in the park, not Adler, but someone disconcertingly connected to Parry. Threatening notes appear under her apartment door. In self-defense, she goes undercover to track Adler’s last moves, to reach deep into his past, but at every step, it is her own past that confronts her.
What is happening? Who can she trust? The persistent police officer? The sketchy private eye? The overly friendly backstage technician? The friend who warns her, “That’s some dangerous shit, bebito. You go away from yourself too long, can be hard to come back”?
The answer, when it comes, will be unlike anything she ever expected—and yet, all too familiar.
Vivian Parry, this is your life.
Twisty, foreboding, addictive, HERE IN THE DARK is the perfect noir, a novel that blurs truth and fiction and, at the very end, delivers a stinger that turns everything on its head. You’ll think about it the next time you’re sitting in the dark, waiting for the curtain to rise. Don’t be surprised if there’s something unsettling on the other side of it.
Alexis Soloski knows what she’s talking about. She trained as an actress in college, reviewed plays for the Village Voice, and now she is a theater critic for The New York Times.
“The germ of the book is based in fact,” she says. “Someone did interview me years ago and then he did disappear. I didn’t investigate that disappearance. (I was writing my doctoral dissertation, I was busy!) But I have wondered what might have happened if I had.
“I’m a huge fan of midcentury noir: Chandler, Hammett, Macdonald, Highsmith, Hughes. I also really love comic and eccentric books: Chesterton, Woodhouse, Loos, the less racist Waugh novels, Stevenson. Beyond that, it’s thousands and thousands and thousands of plays, everything from Greek comedy to revenge tragedy to absurdism.”
Coupled with that, “One of my very favorite forms of theater is immersive theater, theater that happens all around you. I remember seeing an early example of it years ago, Deborah Warner’s The Angel Project, and not knowing where the work ended and the city, with all of its everyday mysteries, began. I’m very excited by that uncertainty.”
She brought all of that into the book, as well as everything else she’s seen: “All told, I’ve been a critic for 25 years. I’ve seen so much extraordinary work—by the Wooster Group, Richard Foreman, Elevator Repair Service, Annie Baker, Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage, Lucas Hnath, the Debate Society, Clare Barron, Will Eno, the Mad Ones, and on and on and on. But if I could pick just one moment, it would be during a performance of The Masque of the Red Death, another immersive show, when I found a secret passage from a wardrobe into a fireplace and felt that I was walking through my own dream.”
Also dreamlike, though sometimes a nightmare, getting the book actually written: “It was, like most bankruptcies, gradual and then very sudden. I started working on it more than a decade ago, just before I became pregnant with my daughter. Her brother three years later. So it was years of trying to snatch a few hours here and there in between childcare and very full-time work. I’m a ridiculously punctual person, and I think I’ve missed one deadline in my life (I was a couple months postpartum and sleep-deprived, and I misread an email), but I was four years late, turning in revisions to an agent. During the pandemic, I finally had some time, so in a matter of months, I finished it, switched agents, and sold it.”
Did she put much of herself in Vivian? “I like to joke that she had to have very good taste, so I gave her mine. The passion for theater is shared, too, and we both have a tendency to quip. But I’m lucky to have wonderful children, supportive friends, a mother who is very much alive, and some very effective therapists. I only take Ativan when I fly! I wish I could say I had better taste in men, though honestly God knows.”
It sounds like that passion for theater, as well as perhaps the questionable taste in men, will probably live on in her next book, as well. It’s about “a young woman who runs away with an experimental theater group in the early 1970s, and some very bad things happen.”
Which can only be a good thing for us.
Neil Nyren is the former EVP, associate publisher, and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons and the winner of the 2017 Ellery Queen Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Among the writers of crime and suspense he has edited are Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, John Sandford, C. J. Box, Robert Crais, Carl Hiaasen, Daniel Silva, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follett, Jonathan Kellerman, Ed McBain, and Ace Atkins. He now writes about crime fiction and publishing for CrimeReads, BookTrib, The Big Thrill, and The Third Degree, among others, and is a contributing writer to the Anthony/Agatha/Macavity-winning How to Write a Mystery.
He is currently writing a monthly publishing column for the MWA newsletter The Third Degree, as well as a regular ITW-sponsored series on debut thriller authors for BookTrib.com and is an editor at large for CrimeReads.
This column originally ran on Booktrib, where writers and readers meet.
BookTrib Spotlight: Alexis Soloski