Ten Days in the Hills

By Jane Smiley
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400040612, 464pp.)

Publication Date: February 13, 2007

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback, Compact Disc

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Description

A glorious new novel from the Pulitzer Prize winner: a big, smart, bawdy tale of love and war, sex and politics, friendship and betrayal—and the allure of the movies. With Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron as her model, Jane Smiley takes us through ten transformative, unforgettable days in the Hollywood hills.

It is the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards. Max—an Oscar-winning writer/director whose fame has waned—and his lover, Elena, luxuriate in bed, still groggy from last night’s red-carpet festivities. They are talking about movies, talking about love, and talking about the war in Iraq, recently begun. But soon their house will be full of guests, and guests like these demand attention. There is Max’s ex-wife, “the legendary Zoe Cunningham,” a dazzling half-Jamaican movie star, with her new lover, the enigmatic healer, Paul (fraudulent? enlightened?). Max’s agent, Stoney, a perhaps too easygoing version of his legendary agent father, can’t stay away, and neither can Zoe and Max’s daughter, Isabel, though she would prefer to maintain her hard-won independence. And of course there is the next-door neighbor, Cassie, who seems to know everyone’s secrets.

As they share their stories of Hollywood past and present, watch films in Max’s opulent screening room, gossip by the swimming pool, and tussle in the many bedrooms, the tension mounts, sparks fly, and Smiley delivers an exquisitely woven, virtuosic work—a Hollywood novel as only she could fashion it, told with bravura, rich with delightful characters, spiced with her signature wit.  It is a joyful, sexy, and wondrously insightful pleasure.




About the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of more than ten novels, as well as four works of nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, and in 2001 was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 2006. Ms. Smiley lives in Northern California.




Praise For Ten Days in the Hills

“A tour de force novel that showcases [Smiley’s] vast cinematic lore, reminding us why she has earned a reputation as one of the greatest entertainers in American letters. In Ten Days in the Hills, Smiley cleverly borrows the narrative set-up of Boccaccio’s Decameron to allow her readers to eavesdrop on a 10-day house party among members of Hollywood’s second-string players. . . . [A] marathon of Woody Allen-like conversations . . . and Oscar-worthy dialogue . . . witty enough to keep readers chuckling . . . The thinking person’s Big Chill. . . . Throughout her career Smiley has demonstrated a genius for thrusting readers straight into the heart of her characters’ emotions, and this time it feels as if she’s adjusted the lens and taken us in for an even closer look. Just how does she make us care so deeply for these people? . . . Readers will be amazed.”
–Andrea Hoag, The AARP Magazine

“[Ten Days in the Hills is full of] merriment, movies and mating, and, in tone, is akin to [Smiley’s] lively and humorous Moo. But careful readers might notice, at times, a touch of sadness beneath the mirthful atmosphere. . . . Smiley’s rich prose manages to turn a simple kiss into something wondrously poetic. . . [Her] artistic facility with prose and creating scenes is evident. . . . [The] stories and conversations are as colorful as [the characters’] backgrounds. . . . Through flashbacks and dinner party stories and revelations, Smiley peels back the layers that have been buffering the relationships of all gathered during [the] 10 days [over which the novel takes place]. . . . A sharp-edged comedy of manners.”
–Dorman T. Shindler, The Denver Post

“A talky, bawdy book that says a lot about Hollywood and even more about the humanness of the 21st century American . . . Smiley has taken a step toward rejecting the traditional novel’s story arc and instead moved toward a form that is both old and new. It’s all about the story . . . Ultimately, her message here is one of art and its ability to free the artist. Forget the idiots in Washington: Get naked; make art; tell stories. Could there by any saner advice for the age we dwell in?”
–Joe O’Connell, The Austin Chronicle

Ten Days in the Hills is a novel about intercourse. Talk and sex. All kinds of sex. But mostly talk . . . [The characters] talk a lot about the Iraq war. They also ricochet off a vast number of other topics . . . The topic that animates the group most, though, aside from sex, is movies . . . Sprinkled throughout the 10 days are some wonderful stories. Deft characterizations abound. Lovely apercus proliferate . . . [Turn] the volume off and enjoy this book–which is so concerned with film–as a silent movie. The actions will speak louder than words. Especially actions amorous.”
–Sarah Bird, Chicago Tribune

“A spicy, steamy sexalicious slice of life.”
–Kim Baer, The Free Lance-Star

“[The characters in Ten Days in the Hills are] a talky, highly sexed, often contentious bunch, and Smiley proves herself their skilled ventriloquist. As her characters struggle with what plagues them–how to hold on to fame and love; what to eat–her own sly humor, and humanity, emerge. Smiley avoids taking potshots at her indulged and indulgent cast. She even manages to show us they’re worth caring for.”
–Jean Nathan, Vogue

“[The characters in Ten Days in the Hills] tell stories in order to ward off the decline of western democracy. And do these people know how to talk. They talk like people under siege. Every bit of it seduces the reader. Just as she takes us inside movies, Smiley takes us inside sex. No writer has ever been more eloquent about [it] either. It’s the opposite of pornography, when you get right down to it: not visual, but tactile. At the same time, Ten Days turns out to be one of the most political novels ever written by an American author. You would think that by now Hollywood would be worn out as a subject of satire. Smiley, however, brings something fresh to her brand of parody: characters who feel real.”
–Mary Welp, Louisville Courier-Journal

“The latest from Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres, follows the exploits of one small enclave in the hills of Hollywood as they react to the Iraq War over the 10 days following the 2003 Oscars . . . Smiley writes with cinematic verve and is nearly without equal when it comes to crystallizing the vagaries of a woman’s inner narrative–musing, meandering, and weaving as it does, free and insouciant even in the face of the withering male ego. [Her character] Elena’s narrative is shot through with frank talk that results in a fresh, oddly romantic way of approaching sexuality–and there is as much action as there is talk.”
–David Cotner, Village Voice

“Compulsively readable . . . Smiley describes the frequent sexual encounters among the characters in explicit detail and with gusto.”
–Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch

“Dazzling . . . [It] is [Smiley’s] delightfully unpredictable range [as a novelist] that makes her one of our finest contemporary writers . . . Smiley’s sex scenes can be lyrical or matter-of-fact, quietly erotic or bawdy, and she can also bring a wickedly satirical edge to the subject . . . . This is not to say that Smiley’s characters are unable to be surprised by love. Rather, it is a different kind of love that takes people by surprise in Ten Days in the Hills–not passionate carnal desire, but a tender love that promises to be more sustaining.”
–Lauren F. Winner, Books & Culture: A Christian Review

“When social historians look back at 2003 to discover America’s psychological state as 9/11 gave way to the Iraq War, they’ll learn more from Jane Smiley’s decadent fantasia Ten Days in the Hills than from the period’s cable news or talk radio . . . . As one character obsesses about the arguments she’d have with Condoleeza Rice if only she could, the devastating ‘Why?’s that would cut through the administration party line, the disconnection and powerlessness felt by millions of Americans become incarnate in the dreamlike Hollywood hills.”
–Donna Bowman, The A.V. Club / The Onion

Ten Days in the Hills proves Smiley’s greatness . . . [In the novel], Smiley shifts perspectives, dexterously exploring how self-perception varies from the perceptions of others. The characters pass the time watching and talking about movies, as well as taking about the war and having sex. Indeed, sex is rampant in Ten Days in the Hills, and Smiley presents it in myriad forms while seeming to wink at the reader . . . Smiley does a tremendous job delineating each character’s idiom and point of view . . . [She] is among our most talented writers.”
–Rob Cline, Cedar Rapids Gazette

“A diverse group of attractive folks take refuge from tragedy in a hillside villa, where much merriment, bawdiness, and storytelling ensue. Boccaccio’s Decameron? Yes, at least transplanted to 21st-century-America in this sly and sexy comic novel . . . . During an eventful week and a half, the [characters’] political tensions, family arguments, anecdotes, gossip, and lovemaking make up a satirical frolic reminiscent of the Pulitzer Prize—winning author’s Moo, though here with more emphasis on Eros than academe.”
–Starr E. Smith, Library Journal (starred)

“It’s a kind of magic . . . Jane Smiley’s latterday Decameron is . . . thoughtful and sensuous, [and] it gives a subtle and often funny account of the relations between a group of finely individualized people. It takes us into their thought processes and shows each of them from multiple viewpoints, as one character after another becomes–as it were–the view-finder. It opens out into their past lives as they tell each other stories . . . It tells us what they eat and how they cook it (Smiley is wittily observant of modern culinary fads). It frankly describes what couples do in bed . . . . South America has given us magical realism. In this richly entertaining and surprising novel, Smiley gives us the North American equivalent–realism, substantial and salty, with a transformational spice of magic.”
–Lucy Hughes-Hallet, The Sunday Times, UK

“[A] highly entertaining yet thoughtful examination of postmillenial America, this is Jane Smiley’s Decameron, just as A Thousand Acres was her King Lear.”
–John Burnside, The Times, UK

“Sex, movies, current events and conversation all come together in [this] wickedly enjoyable novel. Although movie culture dominates the book . . . mostly, the characters tell each other stories . . . And as they talk, dine, watch DVDs and go to bed, the subtleties of their relationships and opinions of one another develop with complexity . . . [Ten Days in the Hills] has as much sex as you’ll find this side of an adult bookstore . . . Smiley writes of picking up The Decameron at a terrifying moment and finding [that] its compulsive storytellers offer ‘much more than escapist fun . . . it was a reminder of human resilience–not merely that humans survive, but that as they survive they can’t help recreating complex culture, which includes aesthetic, moral, political, sexual and sensual ideas.’ That dream of regeneration drives  Smiley’s romp in the hills as well . . . So come ye patrons of movies and bookstores. Jane Smiley has a treat for you.”
–Marion Winik, Newsday

“Jane Smiley takes a taste of Boccaccio and spices [things] up in Ten Days in the Hills, a talkative, bawdy, political novel set in Hollywood days after the start of the war in Iraq in 2003. The 10 characters who gather for a house party tell all sorts of stories, and Smiley tells stories about them: gossip and ghost stories, erotica and history, family sagas and shaggy dog stories. She even weaves in versions of five of the Decameron tales. The book also explores the difference between how novels tell stories and how movies do . . . The novel’s characters all have some connection to the film industry . . . [All] of them have surprising depth. Movies are everyone’s big topic of conversation, although they also circle constantly back to the war . . . . [Her] characters have a lot of sex and talk a lot about it. Some of it’s outlandish, even comic–but much of it is warmly romantic.”
–Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times

Ten Days in the Hills is saturated with sex: loving and satisfying sex, luxuriant and unabashed sex, romantic and silk-sheet sex, middle-aged and earnest sex, explicitly and richly described sex.  It’s impossible to ignore the sex in Ten Days, because it’s right there on the fist page. And while it’s not on the last page, it’s on plenty of pages between . . . . It’s impossible to write about true love without writing about sex, [Smiley] concluded . . . Boccaccio’s [Decameron, on which Ten Days is modeled]–memorably ribald, irreverent and hilarious, a compendium of coupling, cuckoldry and craftiness–reinforced her feelings about the link between love and sex.”
–Michael D. Schaffer, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Sprawling, languid, randy . . . Smiley allows us to become Peeping Toms, literary voyeurs, as we eavesdrop on the conversations [of her characters]. Ten Days in the Hills is a novel, and a shimmering one at that, of social observations, archly written and mordantly funny. The dialogue, too, sparkles, even bristles . . . . Smiley’s Los Angeles is the L.A. of legend, the glamorous city of movie stars, palm trees and sandy beaches, where everyone is beautiful, or wants to be, or dies trying. She captures, too, the way the people in the movie industry talk about movies . . . In fact, [her characters] talk about movies all the time–the movies that they have seen, the movies that they have worked on, the movies that they would like to make, and they even fantasize about which movie stars should portray them on the big screen . . . One of the pleasures of the book, and there are many of them, is listening in on other people’s conversations.”
–June Sawyers, San Francisco Chronicle

“Seductive . . . Ambitious, subtle and enigmatic . . . A delicate portrait of a Hollywood film director and his oddly assorted friends and family, this story unfolds in the bonds and conflicts of that marvelous cast of characters . . . . Where Boccaccio’s lords and ladies hid out from the Black Death’s onslaught, Smiley’s Hollywood characters act out their tensions and resentments during the opening days of the Iraq war. Smiley is just as successful as the Renaissance master at creating an enthralling mini-world that speaks for a time and place . . . The reader is drawn into caring about the relationships, the dreams and even the fetishes of the characters as their back stories are revealed so cleverly. One theme of the book is the power of film to tell a story. Smiley’s prose enables the reader to visualize richly in this cinematic mode. Her craftsmanship is extraordinary and not just art for art’s sake. The characters are utterly real, and their interactions explore a world of ideas as well as friendship and farcical sex . . . Despite the pain and loneliness, this vision of human life makes room for possibilities. It even makes room for the greatest possibility of all, love. Smiley, a recent recipient of the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature, is a masterful writer at the top of her game here. Like a classic film, the book stays with you after the screen goes dark.”–Chris Wiegard, Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Soaring . . . Sharp, erotic, artful . . . an American Decameron. As in Boccaccio’s 14th-century tales, a little group from a dominant cultural elite decamps to the hills and each guest in turn weaves nightly a story from his or her life . . . Smiley’s [characters] are extraordinarily sensitive to their culture, alive to every nuance of beauty and deceit, witty, graceful, desperate to care and preposterously vain. She moves in and out of their heads and stories like the ideal hostess, wearing just the hint of a smile . . . narcissism is never punctured and rarely challenged, simply held up to the light . . . Smiley carefully resists judgment. Ten Days in the Hills has the recognizable emotional intelligence of the author’s masterpiece A Thousand Acres, though the territorial imperatives here are mostly bodily ones. I have never thought of her as a particularly sexual novelist, but here her prose circles light-fingered over the flesh of each of her characters in turn, with an Updikean verve. Some of these couplings are very funny . . . others are as priapic as anything in Boccaccio. Always, like her medieval model, Smiley is playfully obsessed with the moral implications of the pursuit of love . . . [A] typical Smiley sentence [tends] to expand like ripples on the surface of one of David Hockney’s Bel-Air swimming pools . . . Wonderful.”
–Tim Adams, The Guardian (UK)

“Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley has often served up a side dish of sex . . . In her new novel, Ten Days in the Hills, however, Smiley makes sex the entree, describing the characters’ numerous couplings with gleeful detail . . . . Smiley doesn’t know how to write a bad sentence . . . [She] spreads the insights around.”
–Jenny Shank, Rocky Mountain News
“Like the Decameron, Smiley’s new novel is part erotic, comic romp; part satire; and part war protest . . . The dominant mood of [the characters] Max and Elena’s pillow-talk feels like a classical painting: the simple intimacy and comfort, the light, the colors, the curves of bodies. And this sets the tone for similarly radiant and voluptuous scenes . . . . Smiley satirically makes Hollywood a cultural center of art [and] writes clever and compelling dialogue. She also propels the momentum by telling us volatile secrets, the time bombs in any intimate group . . . The intercourse isn’t just social. Each of the 10 days includes an explicitly–and sometimes minutely–described sex scene, interspersed with talk, as if sex were its own conversation . . . In spite of the laughs and titillating scenes, Smiley, like Boccaccio, seems to be making a moral statement about liberty in repressive times: the erotic–in its physical or written form–as political transgression. For a brief moment in time, Hollywood becomes human, smart, full of creative potential. Ten people get closer to their own truths . . . . Be free, Smiley exhorts us: play, create, transgress, eat, drink, cry, make love (not war) and above all, talk to each other.”–Wendy L. Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Sly and savory.  What makes the novel sizzle is Smiley’s knowing way with Hollywood [and] its fetishes . . . Few books in my reading history have been so lushly, smartly visual . . . Ten Days in the Hills is challenging and exhilarating and forgiving of the human condition. I can think of no better book to read in the days before the Academy Awards.”
–Karen Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“[Ten Days in the Hills has] a lot of talk and a lot of sex. Something for everyone . . . The satiric potential is obvious, and Smiley exploits it. Yet she also gives her characters depth and plausibility . . . The 10 days we spend in the hills with them aren’t wasted, and there are some brightly comic moments, [and] some poignant ones.”
–Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News

“Delectable . . . Masterly . . . Full of tenderness, introspection and serious debate . . . Five men and five women gather in a hilltop mansion in Los Angeles. The Iraq War has just begun, but because they would prefer not talking about it (if they could only stop thinking about it), they watch movies (of course, because they’re in the home of a famous director) and they tell stories–dozens of them, intricate, funny, revealing, bizarre, risqué. When they’re not talking, most of them keep busy copulating. There’s so much sex in Ten Days in the Hills, and it’s so explicit that the question arises: Is this porn? I’d say no . . . [My] mind was hardly so mesmerized by the sex that I forgot the virtuosity of the writing. (I’ve never read such splendid renderings of kisses, of the sensation of kissing.) Smiley’s descriptions are more than graphic: They’re so closely observed that without the transforming power of art they would be clinical. The art, however, is of a high order . . . . This is a novel about youth and age, sex and love, privilege and war, longing and the making of art, and Smiley approaches it with wisdom . . . George Eliot, if she could get past all the sex (a big if), would smile on this book.” –Craig Seligman, Bloomberg.com

“Luxurious . . . The extremely talented and ever-surprising Jane Smiley models her lustrous [new] novel, Ten Days in the Hills, on Boccaccio’s Decameron with the same confident grace that she built A Thousand Acres on the framework of King Lear. Again, she deftly transposes the central themes and rich atmosphere of a literary classic to contemporary America, but this time with very different results. Ten Days in the Hills is as sunny and indolent as A Thousand Acres was brooding . . . [In Ten Days in the Hills] Smiley writes about [talking and making love] with gusto . . . [Amid] the chat and canoodling, as in real life, you later perceive that tectonic shifts in the various relationships have quietly occurred." –Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A-

“If Jane Smiley’s new Hollywood novel, Ten Days in the Hills, were an actual Hollywood movie, the pitch might go like this: ten characters spend ten days in the foothills of LA, eating drinking, talking fighting, having lots of graphic sex, arguing about the war in Iraq, and telling stories . . . lots and lots of stories: ghost stories, real estate tales, Hollywood gossip, movie plots, love gone right, love gone wrong . . . Smiley [also] lampoons plenty of Hollywood buffoonery. And there’s this gem about Lawrence of Arabia: ‘I couldn’t stand the idea of this blond guy schlepping through the desert without any sunblock.’”
–Veronique de Turenne, Day to Day / National Public Radio

“Daring, dazzling . . . Riveting . . . [In Ten Days in the Hills] Jane Smiley contemplate[s] morality and sexuality . . . [as she] follows a group of California ‘beautiful people’ holed up in Hollywood in the early days of the Iraq War, wondering about the future and one another.”
–Rebecca Barry, More magazine

“Jane Smiley goes Hollywood in Ten Days in the Hills. It captures the resonating glitter and the desperate struggle to be superficially meaningful that afflicts the movie industry.”
New York Daily News

“Beguiling talk . . . explicit sex . . . Amusing . . . Lovely . . . Sinuous . . . A leisurely stretch of talking and rutting that takes its structure from The Decameron and a good part of its spirit from The Kama Sutra . . . [Smiley] lives up to her name in the best way. She blesses [her characters], shortcomings and all.”
–Richard Lacayo, Time

“A blazing farce, a fiery satire of contemporary celebrity culture and a rich, simmering meditation on the price of war and fame and desire.”
–Tara Ison, Los Angeles Times Book Review, cover

“One of the tale’s more illicit pleasures is the way everyone frames everything in terms of [the] movies . . . . When the lights came up, I was grateful for the time I had spent with Smiley’s players.”
–Chris Bohjalian, The Washington Post Book World

“[The characters in Ten Days in the Hills are] a promising mix . . . and as they settle into [a] house overlooking the Getty Museum, we learn a lot about them from each character's point of view. Conclusion? Darn if they don’t have a good story or two to tell–not to mention the most graphically described sex lives since Portnoy’s Complaint . . . There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this book, as well as prescient and redemptive takes on art, war and the art of love and war.” –Jane H. Furse, New York Daily News

“Intellectual bacchanalia . . . The flamboyance of this cast of characters and their lifestyle is a departure for Ms. Smiley . . . Everyone has secrets, but there’s little space for “secret lives” and no dearth of intimate discussion. Another departure is the prevailing mood of jolly languorousness that hangs over Ten Days in the Hills. But in spite of these forays into new territory, the novel retains Ms. Smiley’s signature appetite for inquiry . . . [In] this dialogue-driven book . . . [the characters] like discussing movies . . . [and] much of the movie-oriented conversation tends to the pointedly personal or political. It seems that for this Hollywood crowd, things become clearer–or at least more palpable–when filtered through a lens . . . [Yet] Ten Days in the Hills is by no means a straightforward political polemic . . . Sexual acts are strewn through the book with deliberate extravagance.”
–Mythili Rao, New York Observer

“[The] Pulitzer Prize-winning author [re-imagines] Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron amid the sexual and existential escapades of the Hollywood crowd.”
The Boston Globe

“A rich meditation on love, war and Hollywood. There are several ways of looking at Ten Days in the Hills–as a sober reflection on war, as a careful analysis of the wide-ranging influence of Hollywood and popular culture, as a demonstration of the various ways we chronicle and communicate our experiences with one another in the attempt to make sense of our lives, among others. Smiley’s novel provocatively combines these many purposes into a narrative that encourages the reader to reconsider how one’s relationships–be they intimate or global–affect one’s sense of self . . . . A Hollywood story that carefully avoids uncritically repeating Hollywood clichés.”
–Martin Harris, The Charlotte Observer

“Smiley delivers [a] hilariously deadpan sizzler [of] crisscrossing attractions, preoccupations with war, sex, art, death and the movies . . . . There is not a clunker among any of [Smiley’s] characters. The reader segues from leering voyeurism to that milder state, companionship, thrilled with such a panorama of foibles, blunders, egos and insights and hoping to be invited the next time these folks decide to head for the oh, you know . . .”
–Margaria Fichtner, The Miami Herald

“Jane Smiley has looked at the U.S. through the lenses of its various power centers, from real estate to academia. Now she’s gone to Hollywood. Unfolding during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Ten Days in the Hills charts the vicissitudes of a group of tinseltown insiders holed up in a mansion in the hills . . . Smiley is an expert writer of dialogue, and one of the keenest plot-makers around, so the book hums along on a river of smarts, sass and cheeky references to Hollywood figures.” –John Freeman, Sunday Star-Ledger

“Jane Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for A Thousand Acres, which re-purposed King Lear on an Iowa farm in the 1970s. Now, in Ten Days in the Hills, Ms. Smiley’s doing something similar with the 14th-century Italian work The Decameron–with extra emphasis on sex. The book is generating early buzz.”
Wall Street Journal

“Pulitzer prize-winner Jane Smiley returns with Ten Days in the Hills, a sardonic novel about a group of industry friends who meet the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards to ruminate on their scandalous pasts, their fraught futures, and the allure of the movies.” –Harper’s Bazaar
“Thought-provoking, entertaining . . . A novel of ideas modeled on Boccaccio’s Decameron . . . . During each of the 10 days that transpire during the course of the novel, two or more of [Smiley’s characters] engage in some manner of explicitly detailed sexual relations. The rest of the time, they all gather to talk–about war and politics, about their past and present lives, about movies they’ve seen and dreams they’ve had . . . Smiley engage[s] the reader and keep[s] the pages turning . . . [We] grow to like these characters...come to understand the sources of their individual perspectives and humanity. This is a tribute to Smiley’s skill as a writer . . . [A] trenchant testament to the confusing, volatile times in which we live.” –Robert Weibezahl, Bookpage
“Stimulating and original . . . The great pleasure of Jane Smiley’s Ten Days in the Hills is to kidnap the art of storytelling, to give it back its languorous, erotic, aristocratic birthright. Ms. Smiley has always been a profuse, unstinting writer . . . Now she sets out to channel the ghost of one of the first and most prolific European storytellers–Boccaccio, whose Decameron is the blueprint for Ten Days in the Hills . . . You can only admire the invention and intrepidity with which Ms. Smiley sets out to rewrite the Decameron for our own time . . . . A sense of swarming profusion is the keynote of Ten Days in the Hills, and its most authentic debt to the Renaissance, whose aesthetics and erotics can be summed up in a single word: more . . . . Ms. Smiley is endlessly resourceful in coming up with stories . . . [and raises] the temperature with sex and politics . . . [Each] chapter has at least one graphic sex scene, which Ms. Smiley writes with rare grace and conviction.”–Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

“Smiley goes for broke and brings her considerable skills to bear on a post-Oscars party high above L.A., delivering a Tinseltown classic.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Smiley [tackles] the American scene, one big, ripsnorting read after the next . . . What’s remarkable about [her] is that, in spite of her Ph.D. and her ironclad grasp of novelistic traditions–so clearly on display in her 2005 book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel–her work feels as up to date as last week’s U.S. News & World Report. Read her novels as they come out, and it feels like the work of a kinder, more stylish Tom Wolfe. Revisit them years later, and the books stand firm as literature. Hear her read and talk about them in person, and they’ll sound like hymns to this grand, if battered, old republic, delivered by the ghost of Charles Dickens.”
Nashville Scene, Critics Picks

“[A] modern-day Decameron . . . [a] Hollywood talkfest [in which] the talk ranges widely but keeps reverting to the Iraq war and the movie business. The acknowledgments at the book’s end thank ‘every director and commentator on every DVD who bothered to add Special Features,’ and there can be no doubt that Smiley, whose previous novels have abundantly shared information on farming, horses, real estate, and medieval Scandinavian settlements in Greenland, has done her DVD research with characteristic thoroughness. Movies–classic and obscure, real and imaginary–pepper the conversation. [At] the end of . . . Smiley’s capacious new novel, [the reader] is reluctant to leave . . . . The ten chapters are named for ten successive days . . . . Each chapter is roughly half talk and half sex. The sexual descriptions set a new mark for explicitness in a work of non-pornographic intent. Smiley works in close focus, and from a male as well as female point of view. Physical facts and sensations are not stinted . . . Smiley has put herself on the edge . . . replacing plot and suspense with something freer and more lifelike–casual talk [that creates] a lattice of cross-purpose in which emotions and attractions extend their tendrils . . . The funniest, most outrageous, and most revelatory sex scene occurs [with] a type rather new to American fiction’s provinces, a post-Communist Russian, saucily enriching the free world with her native energy and bluntness . . . [her] blithe sluttiness . . . The twists of libido are wound into a cultural exchange, and the anatomy of our inward hollows is illuminated to surprising and comic effect . . . . [In The Decameron,] Boccaccio conjures up an idyll of civilized society [that is] all delight and abundance and beauty. Ten Days in the Hills achieves a kindred richness.”
 –John Updike, The New Yorker

“The reigning master of social satire pens a wicked and heartfelt portrait of stars, semicelebrities, and sybarit[es] . . . The beauty of Smiley’s garrulous new novel is that it sublimates polemics in a breezy narrative upon which she has liberally bestowed her trademark gifts: deft characterization, uncanny psychological naturalism, polymathic curiosity, and an astonishing ability to inhabit a given milieu as if it’s been bred in her very bones (in this case, the Hollywood Hills). Smiley models her tale on Boccaccio’s Decameron–only instead of waiting out the bubonic plague at an Italian villa, her 10 storytellers gather during the opening days of the Iraq war . . . What ensues? Robust, Boccaccian sex. (Jane! Who knew?) Gourmet food. Jokes. Hollywood lore. Imaginary movies. Endless musings about theology, books, art, life. And a Fellini-esque denouement at a Russian robber baron’s world-class estate nearby. Are the digressions and bedroom farces merely passing hallucinations, or are they, like iron filings, indiscernibly organizing themselves around some principle whose emergence we await with often euphoric anticipation? You find out: It’s worth the trip.”
 –Ben Dickinson, Elle magazine, lead review

“Smiley has a gift for entwining eroticism with humanism and sparkling wit to form deliciously complex and slyly satirical fiction. And what opulent realms she loots: academia, horse racing, real estate, and now Hollywood. Here Smiley crafts dialogue every bit as provocative as her detailed sex scenes, and, once again, makes ingenious use of a literary antecedent, this time using as a template Boccaccio’s Decameron. While Boccaccio’s group of 10 women and men hope to escape the Black Death by sequestering themselves for 10 days in a villa outside Florence, Smiley quarantines her characters in a mansion high in the hills of Hollywood as the U.S. invades Iraq. Ensconced in luxury if plagued with moral quandaries, they sort out complex family and romantic relationships and argue over the war . . . Each thorny character has an intriguing backstory, feelings run high, and Smiley is regally omnipotent as she advocates for art, objects to war, and considers tricky questions of power and spirit, love and compassion. Archly sexy and brilliant.”
–Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred, boxed review)

“Smiley goes Hollywood in this scintillating tale of an extended Decameron-esque L.A. House party. Gathering at the home of washed-up director Max the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards are his Iraq-obsessed girlfriend, Elena; his movie-diva ex-wife Zoe and her yoga-instructor—cum—boyfriend Paul; Max’s insufferably PC daughter, Isabel, and his feckless agent, Stoney, who are conducting a secret affair; Zoe’s oracular mother, Delphine; and Max’s boyhood friend and Republican irritant Charlie. They watch movies, negotiate their clashing diets and health regimens, indulge in a roundelay of lasciviously detailed sexual encounters and, most of all, talk–holding beguiling conversations about movies, Hollywood, relationships, the war and the state of the world. Through it all, they compulsively reimagine daily life as art . . . Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet she treats her characters, their concerns with compelling surfaces and their perpetual quest to capture reality through artifice, with warmth and seriousness.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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