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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Books about TV: "Soap Opera"

"Soap Opera" is novel written by Eileen Fulton, best known as "As the World Turns" Lisa, that was published back in 1999. I was able to pick up a copy in paperback from 2000, at a charity book sale in a local supermarket. Below are my thoughts about the novel and this includes spoilers.

This book is like time travel, as we go back to a place as cellphones didn't have apps, and soap operas were still being produced in New York City. The descriptions of certain things were so specific that it felt very real. The main character Amanda Baker travels from Virginia to New York to try her hand at acting. She's 18, and heartbroken as her fiance didn't arrive at the church on time. With the support of her widowed father, and the promise of her aunts helping him, she was taking a few months to chase her dream. Amanda ends up becoming the newest soap opera sensation, yet there is no backlash from this scandalous event. In those days, I can see something like that not getting out, but now it would be virtually (pardon the pun) impossible.

On her flight to LaGuardia airport, she has the typical romance meet/cute, and this man ends up working at the same soap opera: Another Life. (Another Life was an actual soap opera, but this fictional show in the book just has the same name.) His name is Costas and he is the stunt coordinator. Amanda ends up in a sublet apartment, which she can barely afford, and becomes friends with a neighbor Selma. Selma sets her up with an off the books job at a coffee shop (this was before Starbucks was a thing in NYC), and leads her to her big break. Selma had an extra ticket to an event with a casting director, and Amanda was discovered. Amanda looked like she could be the daughter of the show's long-running leading lady. The character of Hope Adams died as a baby, but now she returned 15 years later all grown up, and looking for her family. Behind the scenes, we got to know a little bit about the people in Amanda's new life behind the scenes, like the actress who played her mother, her dressing roommate, the actor who played the young stud, and the show's producing writer. I wanted to know more about the show's director as I wondered if he was based on someone familiar to those in the industry or if he was just an amalgam like the rest. One of my favorite passages had to do with getting the new scripts and by reading & rehearsing figuring out the relationships among the characters. I do this as a viewer, so I could relate.

Up until this point, the story was a fairy tale. Like in most soap stories things took an ugly turn. I don't want to spoil everything, but eventually the good people won, and the bad people either ended up dead or punished. What I appreciated about the story was the comments about how much work it is to be on a soap. Amanda knew how to act before being cast, so that wasn't an issue for her. She just didn't know how to handle the workload and the blocking. Both of these things are a bit unique in daytime. Dex, the young stud, had the other problem of not being as naturally talented, but has the technical knowledge of being on set.

One thing that was really odd, and I wonder if it was just my paperback edition was the cover artwork. There is no true love triangle in the story, either on or off camera, so the picture didn't exactly fit. This is a minor quibble, which I have with many books.

If you are into soaps, want to travel back to the 90s, and want a bit of romance this is worth a shot. As it is a romance, most of the secondary characters weren't well-developed, which seems to be the norm.  It is a little over 300 pages, so it is a quick read. Of course, I don't know how easy it will be to get a paperback copy in the wild as I lucked into it on a book table.

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