book review: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

life and death of sophie stark

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark By Anna North.
Blue Rider Press| May 19, 2015|288 pages |$26.95| ISBN: 978-0399173394

Rating: *****/5*

Want an engrossing read for the weekend? This book grabbed my attention from its title, cover and first pages. I was captivated and couldn’t stop reading. It’s a fascinating novel about creativity, artists, fitting in and being satisfied with success, fame and how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to understand us. Sophie Stark, who changed her name to suit her persona, is a renowned and elusive filmmaker. She makes enigmatic and often strikingly sad, honest films that strip bare the characters and dig into their psyches.

Author Anna North creatively writes through various viewpoints of those close to Sophie at some point or another– Sophie’s girlfriend Allison; her songwriter boyfriend Jacob (later husband); an older film producer George; former college crush Daniel and her brother Peter. Daniel describes Sophie: “She was that kind of alternative girl with a camera. She’s a director now.” Sophie has a strange magnetic control over all these individuals by simultaneously annoying them [“Her voice wasn’t rude, just flat, without feeling.”]; scaring them [“Sophie was worse than I’d thought, further away from normal. The coldness I’d seen in her movies wasn’t something she just called up every now and then to help her with a scene; it was the way she was.”] and interesting them [“I think she knew that I still loved her and that‘d be flattered that she needed me.”]. Sophie wasn’t well-liked in college or high school. She never fit in. She’s offbeat and stand-offish even when trying to market her films. She just doesn’t seem to care. But yet she does. She wants to be liked. She wants people to understand her through her films. Her brother says: “I realized then that Sophie did care what other people thought—at least, she liked to be praised.”

Sophie manages to get those close to her to reveal dark, personal moments and memories and then exploits them through her film-making. Jacob admits: “At the same time, I wanted to hold Sophie’s interest. I felt like I was performing for her—I didn’t know whether it was a good performance or a bad one, but I didn’t want to stop. And I didn’t like the way Sophie was looking at me, like she’s given me a challenge I was failing to rise to.” Allison starred in Marianne based on her experience being raped in her hometown in West Virginia. She thinks: “I’d gone to so much trouble to tell a good story about my life, a story that was exciting and didn’t make me look bad, and now the cast and crew and anyone who saw the movie would see the other story anyway. They would see me letting Peter do something I didn’t want; they would see me fearful and helpless and struggling.” This is Anna North’s second novel. The first, America Pacifica, came out in 2011. She’s a currently a staff editor at The New York Times and has been a writer and editor at Jezebel, BuzzFeed, and Salon.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Net Galley.

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