“Someday, Someday, Maybe” is a novel about a 20-something actress struggling to catch a break in 1990s New York. Not coincidentally, the author of “Someday, Someday, Maybe,” Lauren Graham, was once a 20-something actress struggling to catch a break while living in 1990s New York.
But that shouldn’t count as a knock against this charming debut novel. Graham, who grew up in Northern Virginia and is best known for playing ultra-cool single moms on “Gilmore Girls” and “Parenthood,” has smartly mined just the right details from her own experience, infusing her work with crackling dialogue and observations about show business that ring funny and true. Despite its forays into predictable chick-lit territory, her book succeeds as a winning, entertaining read largely because of Graham’s confidence and ceaselessly observant wit.
In “Someday, Someday, Maybe,” we meet Franny Banks, one of the many table-waiting artists who flock to New York like moths eagerly bringing head shots to a flame. Franny is talented, a tad klutzy and guilty of repeatedly extending the succeed-or-surrender deadline that, if honored, would end her attempts to parlay detergent commercials into a serious acting career. Her supportive but clueless father suggests that she “apply for” a role on “Friends,” prompting Franny to explain that she’d rather work in the theater and, also, that she’s not skinny enough to land a primo sitcom gig.
“Those girls look sick. You’re healthy,” he tells her.
“I don’t want to look healthy,” she says, later clarifying: “I want to be healthy. I just want to look sick.”
Franny may be determined to succeed in an industry that often rewards the vapid, self-involved and borderline malnourished, but Graham makes it clear that her funny girl — like so many Manhattan heroines before her — is brainier and more determined than most. While the leggy girls at all those casting calls daydream of luxuriating on glossy magazine covers, our protagonist fantasizes that someday she’ll amass enough wisdom and experience to host “An Evening With Franny Banks” at the 92nd Street Y.
The central question of this novel isn’t whether Franny can succeed as an actress, but whether she can do so while keeping her moral compass properly calibrated. At one point, she gets cast in a minor role in her first major motion picture, the evocatively titled “Zombie Pond.” “The director found you very wholesome, exactly the sort of all-American girl next door whose death would inspire a man to kill,” her agent effuses.
But when Franny gets the script, she realizes she has to appear topless in one scene, forcing her to decide whether to report to the set or back out and maintain her dignity. “Every actress, from Meryl Streep to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, has boobs,” advises Deena, an older student of the craft who serves as a mentor. “Not every actress has ‘no.’ ‘No’ is the only power we really have.”
Similar mini-crises abound, and Graham addresses them with a graceful capacity to toggle between the wry and the touching. Even a somewhat predictable romantic conflict — among Franny; a pretentious actor who’s clearly wrong for her; and Franny’s perfectly nice roommate, Dan — offers some honest reflection. After taking in a matinee, for instance, Franny complains about the movie’s love triangle: “Why is it always a triangle? Why isn’t it a square or an octagon? That seems more realistic.” Dan, an aspiring writer, explains that the set-up is “a way to make an internal struggle dramatic. People see themselves in that struggle. They keep using that structure because it’s familiar to most people and makes sense to them.”
Graham clearly understands that, too. And, just like the screenwriters of the best romantic comedies, she has taken elements of the familiar and spun them into a novel that’s heartfelt, hilarious and, hopefully, just the first example of what she can do with the written word.
Chaney, former Celebritology writer for The Washington Post, is a pop culture critic whose work appears on Esquire.com, New York Magazine’s Vulture and other outlets.
By Lauren Graham
Ballantine. 344 pp. $26