We Play Ourselves

We Play Ourselves coverWe Play Ourselves: A Novel
Jen Silverman
Random House (February 9, 2021), 323 pages
Kindle edition $5.99, Amazon paperback $17.00

I first read about We Play Ourselves when it was published in 2021. The New York Times Book Review had good things to say about it. I downloaded the Kindle sample and pretty much forgot about it, as I read mostly nonfiction.

I was, however, recently nonfictioned out and a mention of the book in the Newest Literary Fiction group on Goodreads jogged my memory. Given that We Play Ourselves focuses in part on the theater, and given that I have long loved theater, I thought it would be a good choice for my next book. It was.

The first-person protagonist, Cass, has been laboring in the New York theater world for several years without a great deal of success. Finally a script she wrote won a (fictional) prestigious prize. This got her an agent and the agent facilitated the production of her play to be directed by a well-regarded director. The reviews of the play were highly unfavorable. Meanwhile, another winner named Tara-Jean Slater, a dozen years younger than Cass, is achieving success with what Cass sees as absurdist productions. Cass inadvertently causes a scandal at the younger woman’s opening night party and flees to the West Coast in humiliation.

In Los Angeles Cass secures a bedroom from an old high school friend, Dylan, who is gay. Living next door is a woman named Caroline who sees herself as a director and is producing a movie with a group of high school girls she has recruited. Caroline hears Cass’s name as Cath and asks her to assist with the film. Cass doesn’t mind the name change as she sees herself in the light of the old New York Cass and the new Los Angeles Cath. Cass’s life is complicated by the conflicts between Dylan and his lover, by her discovery that Caroline will cross ethical boundaries to get the film she wants, and by Tara-Jean Slater’s arrival in Los Angeles to complete a big Netflix deal. (Cass always refers to Tara by her full name.) Things spiral out of control to the point where Cass returns to her parents’ home in New Hampshire.

The final 15 percent of the book somewhat falls apart as Cass’s mother recruits Cass to produce a puppet play at her church for Easter. But that notwithstanding, the rest of the book is an engaging page-turner with plenty of twists and turns. What little I have said here is not enough to diminish your enjoyment of the novel with its character development and the angst that Cass experiences.

Author Jen Silverman writes briskly and with wit. She knows the residential areas of Los Angeles well. When parking near the home of one of the high school girls she has Cass notice:

quotea particularly complicated three-part sign that seems to be saying either that it’s okay to park on weekdays between certain hours or else that it’s okay to park at all times other than weekdays between those specific hours.

Silverman’s knowledge of the California coast is less solid. She has Cass saying that she can drive from Monterey to San Francisco in an hour. Don’t think so.

That’s just a quibble, however. If you like a good novel and if you appreciate the world of the theater We Play Ourselves is enjoyable reading.

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