Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman
April 12, 2022 by Random House – Ballantine, Dell
Review by Kate H.
Chana Horowitz is a busy writer in LA, in her thirties and newly divorced. Her successful career as an essayist and interviewer was launched by an interview with Hollywood movie star, Gabe Parker. A decade ago she was given unprecedented access to the actor, and she spends much of a weekend learning about the heart-throb who has been controversially cast as the next James Bond. The article goes viral – spurring unprecedented conversation: was the article great or awful? Did or didn’t she sleep with him? Only two people know the truth. Then, a decade later, she is invited to do a follow-up interview with Gabe. Suddenly everything is opened up for reflection: her career, her marriage, and her feelings for Gabe.
Chana is a complex character – she is both strong and weak, the way real people are. She’s both confident about her writing abilities, but at the same time, she questions her choices, including her chosen genre which seems inferior in comparison to the more literary writing her ex-husband, “The Novelist,” did. She’s at times self-deprecating, but also brave. We don’t get to look at Gabe quite as closely, but slowly we see he is much more than his public persona. He has similar doubts about his professional choices.
The character of the ex is actually important in this novel. He’s insecure, but verbally abusive comments about Chana’s writing, help us understand her own self-doubts. He probably didn’t create them all, but he fed them for years. But he is not simply a monster – they clearly had some good times, as evidenced by several vignettes. Like many mistakes, “the Novelist,” with his undermining behavior, becomes more visible in hindsight.
I did get irritated with the structure of the novel, which goes back and forth between past and present, but is also interwoven with excerpts from the original article that Chana wrote about Gabe, as well as numerous other shorter articles and blurbs throughout the novel. It’s a lot! On the one hand, these “outside” pieces help us see what seemed to happen, versus what did actually happen. However, I thought they were distracting and sometimes too repetitive to the actual narrative. After reading all the parts of Chana’s article about Gabe, I kind of agreed with her critics – it was too self-absorbed. For me, all the moving about between the narrative and the documents, from the past to the present and back again, pulled me out of the reading experience. But I think others will enjoy the mixed style.
One of my favorite moments in this novel is near the beginning when Gabe insists on learning how to pronounce Channa’s name correctly. It’s one of the early clues that he’s not just some dumb actor from Montana. But it becomes a signature “I see you” motif that reverberates through the novel.
CW: Emotional abuse, death of a parent