What does a human being see when they envision their favorite actor? Is it a glamorous photoshoot? An Instagram post? A tabloid rumor? When we think of a Hollywood actor we admire, we more often that not see them in the confines of their character. Their true appearance and personality is overshadowed.
This theme is central in Vanderbilt alumni Leah Stewart’s new novel, What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw. The work centers around two major fictional actors, Charlie Outlaw and Josie Lamar, two famous actors in a serious relationship. Charlie is in his mid-30s, new to fame and major Hollywood roles and in the height of his popular television show’s second season. Josie is 41, considered to be old in the acting world and has been fighting for small appearance roles since her wildly successful teen drama Alter Ego wrapped up 20 years ago. Charlie is sweet and earnest while Josie is bitter and insecure, both owing to their dispositions and their level of fame and public popularity.
When Charlie has a horrible interview in a popular magazine, fans turn on him and his show’s ratings drop. After he makes unflattering remarks about Josie’s fall from fame, she breaks up with him. He decides to take a solitary vacation to a small island’s hidden tourist resort. While there, he is kidnapped by island inhabitants and is held hostage by four adults and teen boys. Will Josie be able to find out what happened to him and channel her lost confidence into a rescue worthy of an Oscar?
This story combines two very separate genres of entertainment–the dark side of Hollywood and fame and kidnapping on a mysterious island. However, the way the two stories blend together, as Josie auditions for new roles while Charlie is held hostage in the jungle, is well done and easy to follow. Stewart manages to shift between these plot lines and several side characters’ points of view with great talent, revealing each character’s hidden thoughts and desires. The emotions we get from Charlie and Josie in relation to each other and their recent breakup are indicative of real life, as they fight with their deep longing for the other person.
Besides the inner thoughts of the actors, fans and crew members, we also get the inner emotions and motivations of Charlie’s kidnappers. Each kidnapper has a distinct personality and reason for their involvement with the crime. These people become real as well, either as misunderstood individuals or as true villains. The journey they take with Charlie through the island’s jungle reveals their true natures and how far they are willing to go for the money and education of which they were previously denied.
What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw is one of the most well-written novels I have read in a long time, and the finished product required a large amount of research by Stewart. Each chapter includes an epithet with advice from an actor’s method book, and the actors in the novel follow this advice and their own instincts to become submersed in a role. It’s an interesting perspective on the inside of an actor’s mind, and the novel gets quite intellectual as the characters sift through their emotions, their astute observations of each other and what is real and not real in their own lives. This novel does not only boast an entertaining plot and well-written characters, it is a study of an actor’s life and how fans treat them.
What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw will go on sale March 27, 2018.