Faces to watch in books
Barbara Kingsolver Josephine Hart, and other newcomers who are hot in books
What Ernest Hemingway wrote about going broke also applies to overnight success: It happens two ways — gradually and then suddenly. It may be true that the vast majority of the actors, musicians, writers, artists, and comedians we’ve included in our 1991 class of faces to watch have put in years of private, unheralded labor before landing on the cusp of celebrity. But it’s equally a fact of fame that one day you don’t have it, and the next you do — somebody has heard of you, somebody knows your name, somebody wants you. On the following pages is a torrent of talent and a plentitude of potential, along with some advice to this year’s newly minted successes on what to do after getting a foot in the door, and how to avoid becoming that evil twin of a promising newcomer: the fading star. We wish them all the luck they deserve.
When Barbara Kingsolver, 35, was growing up in Kentucky, she says, women had three choices: to become a teacher, a nurse, or a farmer’s wife. She wanted to be a lion tamer. At DePauw University, she discovered ”lions to be tamed I hadn’t even dreamed of.” She became an archaeologist, a medical researcher, a student of Oriental art. She lived in Greece and England and France. Finally, she settled in Tucson, Ariz., married, had a daughter, and wrote two novels, 1988’s The Bean Trees and last fall’s Animal Dreams. The HarperCollins books have homespun heroines who embrace Latin American refugees and political activism. And readers are embracing the books: In February, when booksellers chose the titles they most liked peddling, Kingsolver’s novels were both in the top 10. — Kelli Pryor
In her first novel, Damage, Josephine Hart mixes sex and death, a concoction that has been anything but lethal for her literary career. The novel, just out, is narrated by a respected member of the British Parliament obsessed with his son’s fiancee, who teaches him about sex stolen in Paris alleys and bound with ribbons in empty apartments. The book brought an impressive $68,000 advance in Britain, where Hart, who is in her 40s, produces plays (Noel Coward’s The Vortex) for London’s West End and lives with her husband, high- powered advertising exec Maurice Saatchi, and two sons. In New York, Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta read her book in one night, bought the U.S. rights for $65,000, and included a letter in its linen-bound, gift-wrapped review galleys, calling it ”the most shocking, haunting, and erotic novel we had read.” Louis Malle (Au Revoir Les Enfants) bought the film rights for $250,000, and the paperback and foreign rights have reportedly added up to an astonishing $750,000. But perhaps the greatest measure of Hart’s success is that Damage, in its first week, is already No. 9 on The New York Times best- seller list, a rare accomplishment for a first novel. Says Hart, who is at work on a second book: ”The power of sex is often underrated.” — Kelli Pryor
Kathryn Harrison, 30, can’t stop writing — even when she should. Last summer she was driving her family to Maine in the middle of the night when her husband, Colin, a novelist and an editor at Harper’s Magazine, woke up and caught her scribbling on a notepad propped against the steering wheel. It was just such dogged devotion that carried her through to the completion of her first novel, Thicker Than Water: She would sleep four hours a night and during the day work as an associate editor at New York’s Viking press — shepherding manuscripts into print, shuffling contracts, doing lunch. In 1990, when Harrison was eight months pregnant with her only child, Sarah, agent Amanda Urban sold the book in one weekend to Random House. Just out, the accomplished novel explores mother love in a devastatingly understated twisting of taboos. With whisper- quiet prose, Harrison masterfully wields horror — without ever drawing blood. ”I wanted it to be like a very sharp knife,” she explains. ”I wanted it to be in up to the hilt before anyone realizes what I’ve done.” — Kelli Pryor
When the sci-fi comic book Starslayer needed a few pages of filler back in 1981, commercial illustrator Dave Stevens came to the rescue. He cooked up The Rocketeer, a period quickie about an aviator who becomes a masked hero after stumbling upon a top-secret rocket backpack. Four ensuing solo comics later, The Rocketeer was an underground sensation: a hiply square update of old action serials. Now, the 35-year-old L.A. native’s creation has become the latest comic-book character to reach for Hollywood stardom: Disney this summer will release its $40 million version of The Rocketeer. Stevens is convinced that the film, of which he’s associate producer, retains the charm he put into the original Rocketeer as an antidote to ”big muscle guys in space” comics. ”It’s kind of a nasty business, and I wanted to create something that I saw lacking in the medium,” Stevens says. ”I tried to build an American myth.” — Ty Burr
Matt Groening’s snarky Simpsons may rule the airwaves, but don’t expect Peter Bagge’s anarchic cartoon characters to show up on TV soon. Bursting into flower in the sweetly named Hate (available quarterly at comic shops near you), the Seattle artist’s humor mixes the Ramones, Stranger Than Paradise, and the Three Stooges. The antics of Bagge’s alter ego, Buddy Bradley, aren’t for minors or Jesse Helms. But they are for anyone who has ever shared a basement apartment with roommates from hell. And though the most recent issue finds world-class cynic Buddy with a girlfriend and clean underwear, Bagge denies that age (he’s 33) or maturity (he and his wife are parents of a 7- month-old) can mellow his vision. ”Buddy’s never going to turn into a warm, wonderful human being,” he says. — Ty Burr