Ethan Hawke: Talking tough about young love

By Elizabeth Kiem

You just gotta respect an Oscar-nominated movie star who shows some democratic values. When Ethan Hawke appeared on the cover of a local publication weeks before The Hook was slated to talk with him about his new novel, Ash Wednesday, I cringed. Nobody likes to get scooped, after all. But the newspaper Hawke had granted an interview was the Jefferson Madison Regional Library’s monthly– and that, I think, is pretty cool for a fresh young celebrity author.
“Hey, it’s definitely more interesting than doing an interview for GQ,” says Hawke about talking to local media. “I have a feeling by the time I’m through, I’ll have an interesting sense of the country.”
After eight weeks in China where his wife, Uma Thurman, is filming a movie, Hawke is back in the country to promote his book, and he’s stopping next Monday in Charlottesville. Beyond a vaguely recalled trip to Monticello some years ago, Hawke has little to say about the choice of venue, which stands out starkly from the other stops– Chicago, Boston, Seattle, New York, deferring to his publisher’s own ideas of “interesting literary communities.”
Still, it’s tempting to think that a subconscious determination on the part of the author routed the tour. A novel about wayward love and belated commitment, Ash Wednesday is a story about leaving places behind. While its Texas-bound protagonists speed through Times Square and Bourbon Street fueled on fear, hope, and first trimester hormones, it is the small towns and bus depots in between that best represent their inner journey. 
“That’s one of the great things about novels,” says Hawke. “So often, we are not where we are. We’re sitting in a diner in Cleveland or something, but really, your head is back in eighth grade.”
Jimmy Heartsock, the frantically emotional hero of Ash Wednesday spends a lot of time with his head “back in eighth grade” somewhere. His graceful, melancholy girlfriend Christy does the same in the passenger seat. But on the road, they begin to crawl into each other’s heads, getting a better grasp on each other’s hearts. Hawke’s training as an actor is evident in the natural cadence of his dialogue.
“The way she talks, I’m starting to like you,” a Catholic priest says to Jimmy after listening to Christy’s rationale for marriage.
And that’s about how it feels to read Ethan Hawke’s new novel.

Ethan Hawke will perform selections from Ash Wednesday in the McIntire Amphitheatre on UVA Grounds Monday, June 29 at 8pm. In case of inclement weather, the event will be held in the auditorium of the Chemistry Building on McIntire Road. The book signing follows a special screening of Hawke’s directorial debut, Chelsea Walls, at 4pm in the basement of Newcomb Hall. Reading is free and open to the public. Screening is ticketed. For more information call UVA Bookstore, 924-1073.

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