The life and death of Sophie Stark

Anna North

Book - 2015

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New York : Blue Rider Press [2015]
Physical Description
270 pages ; 24 cm
Main Author
Anna North (author)
Review by New York Times Review

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing, by Laura J. Snyder. (Norton, $17.95.) As lenses became more refined in the 17th century, a fabric-merchant-turned-naturalist and a painter in Holland used the developments to advance their own pursuits. Van Leeuwenhoek, using the small microscopes that he built, discovered a world of microbes in droplets of water; Vermeer, using a camera obscura, toyed with light and illumination and how people perceive them. A CURE FOR SUICIDE, by Jesse Ball. (Vintage, $16.) An unnamed man, who came close to death, is convalescing in a village where a woman, called the "examiner," teaches him the basics of how to live: what sleep is, how to dress, why people have names. Ball's fifth novel elegantly examines the process of rebuilding a life from nothing, and how pain shapes a person's identity. BLACKOUT: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, by Sarah Hepola. (Grand Central, $ 15.99.) At 7 years of age, Hepola first began sneaking sips of beer and developed a taste for alcohol that stretched into a decades-long addiction. She acknowledges the inherent paradox of her project - how can she write about the hours that she cannot recall? - but captures the vagaries of alcoholism with honesty and humor. GOLDEN AGE, by Jane Smiley. (Anchor, $16.) The final volume of Smiley's trilogy following the Langdon family opens in 1987 and runs through 2019. The Langdons have dispersed throughout the country and face a host of political, economic and environmental challenges. Though the story's cast has swelled, Smiley expertly links each person's story to the past. "You can feel the weight of what came before," Louisa Thomas wrote here. A BUZZ IN THE MEADOW: The Natural History of a French Farm, by Dave Goulson. (Picador, $16.) When Goulson, a biologist and conservationist, purchased a run-down farmstead in rural France, he sought to preserve the property's diverse ecosystem. Here, he tells the story of the creatures that live there - offering insights into such subjects as the "complex politics of life as a paper wasp," among others. His book functions as a joyful call to arms for conservation efforts. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK, by Anna North. (Blue Rider, $16.) Sophie, the title character of North's novel, is a filmmaker whose work draws praise for its emotional precision. Her story, told by people who once knew her, "illustrates just how far an artist will go in pursuit of authentic expression," our reviewer, Sarah Fetguson, wrote. ONE NATION UNDER GOD: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin M. Kruse. (Basic Books, $17.50.) Kruse, a Princeton historian, reveals how the four words of the title became enshrined as political gospel in the 1950s. Starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower, religious businessmen and lawmakers worked to integrate religion more closely into government functions.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 10, 2016] Review by Booklist Review

Movies are how I get to know people, explains student filmmaker Sophie Stark, as she seduces West Virginia waitress Allison Mieskowski, convincing her to become the lead actress in her low-budget indie (and her offscreen romantic partner). Allison soon comes to admire Sophie's fierce creativity, and to dread the way that she borrows and manipulates the true stories of those around her in order to make her films. As Sophie and her unflinchingly honest films begin to capture the admiration of Hollywood, they also exact an increasing emotional toll on her loved ones. Allison's first-person account of Sophie's rise and fall is interwoven with testimonies of others in Sophie's circle: her brother, her producer, her husband, her documentary subject, and her most ardent critic, each reflecting on the impact and impossibility of Sophie and her work. As taut and artistically ambitious as its title character, North's novel upends the trope of the lone, tortured genius, considering instead the deeply human consequences of one person's uncompromising vision.--Bosch, Lindsay Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The ending of North's (America Pacifica) provocative new novel is a foregone conclusion; it is the journey there, revealed by the intimates in Sophie Stark's life, that draws the reader in. The difficult and tenacious filmmaker Sophie inhabits the same world as the rest of us, but she doesn't really live in it. Her intensity informs her filmmaking, which in turn conveys her vision and emotions. A by-product of her hyperfocus is that she manipulates people to achieve her art. Those in her orbit come to understand this too late to have a happy relationship with her. As such, the book's narrators-among them a college basketball player, a musician, and a movie producer-disappear and reappear years later, interrupting the narrative flow. Mitigating that flaw is the character of a film critic, whose writings about Sophie's films are a constant for the reader. The other constant is Sophie's talent. Though derived from her existence as an outsider, it is the vehicle that allows her to bring an uncanny emotional depth to her work. North's nuanced prose and emphasis on characterization result in a thoughtful, moving read that explores the creative process and its effects on relationships. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

North's second novel (after the post-apocalyptic America Pacifica) features Sophie Stark, a talented but manipulative young filmmaker who incorporates the life stories of those who love her into her award--winning movies. This portrait of Sophie as a sociopathic artistic genius emerges a chapter at a time from stories narrated by those she has used. She stalks Daniel, a star college basketball player, to create her first film, only to abandon him after he falls in love with her. Allison's painful childhood in West Virginia becomes fodder for Sophie's second production, and the tragic death of her husband's mother becomes the backstory for her breakout endeavor. Sophie freely admits that she doesn't feel emotions like other people, and, despite her skill at examining and documenting the lives of others, she doesn't seem to have the ability or, perhaps, the desire to examine her own life and actions in the attempt to become a better person. The alternating perspectives make this story particularly well suited for the audio format; narrators Amanda Dolan's and Roger Wayne's careful pacing and sympathetic portrayals of Sophie's intimates add to the powerful narrative. VERDICT This haunting examination of the price of artistic success is recommended for literary fiction collections. ["Portrays with painful clarity the life of a flawed but highly talented artist. Essential for literary fiction readers": LJ 5/15/15 starred review of the Blue Rider hc.]-Beth Farrell, Cleveland State Univ. Law Lib. © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

When love and art collide in Sophie Stark's life, art always wins. Sophie, a filmmaker, is elusive in the way we're told only true geniuses can be. From a precocious age, she flits in and out of people's lives, as her career moves from that of a cult favorite to the highest levels of fame. Though she's the book's focal point, her voice is never part of the story; instead, the reader only comes to know her from the perspectives of those who love and watch her, one person and one chapter at a time. Tragedy haunts each section as Sophie keeps choosing to put her art ahead of everybody she loves, whether it's her college girlfriend, her ex-husband, or the people she crashes with in between relationships. With every betrayal, Sophie's art improves, and her mental health crumbles further. The novel builds slowly, and, though its denouement is promised by the book's title, it unfolds with a surprising depth of feeling. Articles by journalist Benjamin Martin appear between most of the chapters; his growth lends a quiet parallel to the growth of Sophie's career, which fleshes out the book nicely. North's writing is assured and engrossing, though the voices of those who love Sophie are fairly similar, creating the effect of a Greek chorus rather than separate narrators. If we're to accept the clich that human kindness is the price of great art, it's a welcome change to see a woman play the role of tortured artist and to hear instead from those who are left behind in her pursuit. An engaging exploration of what it takes to make art and, more importantly, what it takes to love those who make it. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.