From the swan-shaped inflatable on the cover, I suppose this novel is meant to be light poolside entertainment. However, I read it during one of the coldest weekends of the year. Maybe that was my first mistake although I did have other issues with the novel, not just my ill-timed foray into the life of a struggling comedian getting her big break by cozying up to the boss.
I could say that Stay Up With Hugo Best is loosely based on David Letterman’s career and life, and an interaction with a junior member of his staff who narrates the relationship that develops between them after his show ends. But it’s more like a barely disguised tell-all. In fact, just the main characters’ names appear to have been changed. The cover might have had the two words “A Novel” printed on there but it included almost every public detail about Letterman – the longtime relationship with his producer that contributed to the breakdown of his marriage, the rise in ratings and the expectation to replace Johnny Carson that didn’t materialize when the job went to another comic who would be Letterman’s… er, I mean fictional Hugo Best’s … competitor for the duration of his career, his enthusiasm for sport cars. Even the detail of being stalked and assaulted by a fan in the seventies was included. How could this honestly be called a novel when all the plot and sub-plot points are just ripped from the headlines or the comedian’s Wikipedia page?
The plot of the novel surrounds a young female staff member who gets invited to spend the weekend with her former boss, a kind-of fictional character based on real-life comic David Letterman, when his popular late night talk-show ends. But in the fictional story, June Bloom is a twenty-something female comic writer, who’s been working for the team surrounding Hugo Best for several years, but it’s the night of his retirement when she finally meets him personally and although she tries to explain to the reader that she is repulsed by his flirting with another young woman, when he invites her to spend the Memorial weekend at his Connecticut home, she blows off her other commitments and jumps into his chauffeured car, Greenwich bound. Over the next few days, she tries and fails to establish an emotional connection with the icon or the person behind the on-screen image, despite the discussion of his career highs and lows, personal gaffes, including failed marriages and terrible parenting but it’s the non-relationship that emerges between Hugo and June that is supposed to be the real focus of the book. So we have a first person narration where June is trying to be funny to the reader and to the person she’s dialoguing with. She also rarely tells the truth to the other person even though she usually gives the reader the full story before responding in a conversation so we have two alternate versions of June – what she shares with the reader which creates one assessment of her, and what she tells other people, including Hugo, which is how people treat her. There are four possible male suitors for June in this novel – Hugo, his teenaged son, a date she ditches for her big weekend and a coworker. Yet, it’s the lukewarm relationship with her father that she mentions but doesn’t fully explore that seems to fuel her searching and what eventually has her treading through the book. I struggled for deeper meaning to the play-by-play weekend recap and balked at the story’s resolution that wrapped up in 3 pages.
Several things aren’t made clear about June: why she goes home with this man who she says she admired as a child but saw the truth beneath the glitter from working for him so she doesn’t come to this weekend as a naive, starstruck groupie and yet, here she is. What does she hope for from this dalliance? Certainly, she doesn’t expect the man who can’t sustain his own comedic career to help launch hers. A lot about the plot doesn’t add up.
I am not necessarily a fan of the situation between Hugo and June, and the writing with the dual story writing wasn’t particularly engaging, in fact it felt like I had to keep going back and forth with how I felt about June – did I like or despise her personality? And the ricocheting attention June seems to need from the aged star and his teenaged son was really confusing and disturbing, especially when she interspersed the play-by-play recap of the long weekend with stories of her disagreements with her own father.
But the endless meandering between realities, her failed attempts at making even this captive audience laugh, and the failure to come to a conclusion were my biggest issues.
I won an ARC in a Goodreads giveaway and liked the cover right away. However, since the ARC was printed and distributed several months before publication date, with enough time for the editors to work their magic, I would like to note that this preliminary review won’t necessarily reflect the finished book and invite you to make your own assessment when you read it.