RIGA - No one says you can’t judge a book by its epigraph. Quoting from Nicole Kidman, The Baltic Times’ columnist Ilze Powell sets the tone of her debut novel magnificently: “You’re not anyone in America unless you’re on TV.”
Kidman’s quote might be the mantra propelling The Big Set’s protagonist, Elize Lapsane, through the ups and downs of her budding acting career in New York City. Elize seems determined, slightly aloof, drunk from The City and coming closer to her childhood dream of becoming an actress - “when I was young, I often imagined my life was a movie.”
Powell’s The Big Set is cinematic through and through. It reads less like a novel than a screenplay for a “rom-com” or “chick-flick”; the book’s chapter-breaks seem to designate “scenes” or “cuts” more so than chapters. Chapter titles - “Agent,” “Boozie,” “Perfect People,” “Rush Hour,” “Silky and Sweet,” “Red Carpet,” and “Soap Opera” - read like the titles of episodes in a TV series. Chapter titles are even referred to as “episodes” throughout; Ilze skips the mundane of Elize’s life, oscillating from one ‘event’ to another.
Nicole Kidman could even play The Big Set’s lead, if only she were Latvian - and if only her career as an actress wasn’t already at large. Elize Lapsene has recently moved to New York City to attend acting school and pursue a career on the screen. The curtain draws back, Elize is swooning at a wedding party, an agent and a love interest waiting in the wings.
Knowing something of the author’s life and work, it’s hard not to see biographical parallels with the protagonist. Powell describes herself as a “former aspiring actress” —she, too, lived in New York City. Powell’s illustration of Elize and her life in New York is visceral, in part because it reflects a period of the author’s life.
Powell’s plot is alive with glitz, glamour, veneer – like most television shows and soaps series. The veracity of the writing style matches: it, too, is alive, vibrant, constantly shimmering in rhythm with Elize’s professional and emotional rollercoaster.
But what elevates “The Big Set” from every other small-town-girl-in-the-big-city movie? Probably Powell’s ungarnished honesty: “I cross the mirror, when, totally freaked out, I notice something… really… enormous. Unbelievable. My butt has somehow turned similar to a giant sponge.”
Inspired by true events, Powell’s novel follows Elize’s circuitous journey to self-realization through New York’s fast-paced urban social scene.