When Hugo Best, a talk show host in his sixties, retires from the late night show he’s been running for most of his life, he finds himself in the sparse audience of a depressing comedy club he used to frequent in the early days of his career. Onstage is Jane, a 29-year-old writer’s assistant who, until earlier that day, had worked for him. Hugo spontaneously invites Jane to spend a weekend with him, and, fueled by her now-anchorless life and a longtime crush on Best, she accepts.
Sometimes you read a book that you know you wouldn’t recommend to everyone, and this is one of those books. I personally enjoyed it quite a bit, because it wasn’t the fun, fluffy, ridiculous book I expected it to be. Instead, it was an intense character study of a man coming to terms with his life now that the relevance and power he once had in large quantities is quickly dwindling and of a woman who never achieved the relevance and power she thought she would in her youth. These very honest explorations within the story are framed with the opulence of extreme fame and some very uncomfortable power dynamics.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to every reader because it is far from plot-driven. At times, the activities of Jane and Hugo Best feel utterly aimless and the tension builds so slowly, it’s almost nonexistent. I also found the overlay of sexual tension to be a bit alarming from time to time. Somers intentionally and subtely weaves in the Me Too movement that is so relevant in the television industry. Hugo Best, a famous talk show host, Jane’s former boss, and the man who holds the keys to so many opportunities that would jump-start Jane’s career in comedy and tv, holds so much of the power during this weekend together. However, one of the reasons I liked Jane even when she was an unlikable main character in many regards, is because she managed to turn this power dynamic her way so often. Hugo relies on her to boost his ego, to continue to idolize him, and essentially make him feel relevant now that his show is over.
That said, I would recommend this book to those of you who enjoy character-driven stories. Jane’s characterization rings so true to me, and everything she is working through during this long weekend seems so important. I found myself reaching for it all the time because I was so invested in her. I needed her to harness her power in this relationship with Hugo, to accept the path her life has taken and make the best of it, and walk away from the person she had always pictured Hugo to be and accept the Hugo he really is.
On the other hand, I was somehow also rooting for Hugo to take back his personal life, forge a better bond with his son, and separate the relationships that existed only because of what his fame could do for others. Because these two character developments were happening side by side, and were leaning on the other to move forward, I really enjoyed reading Stay Up With Hugo Best.
Overall? An entertaining and very interesting tale of two adults coming to terms with their adult lives.
Thank you to Scribner for sending me an advanced copy of this book!
PUBLICATION DETAILS: Scribner; April 2, 2019; 272 pp; 978-1982102357. Fiction -> Satire