In Molly Fox's Birthday, the nameless narrator, a mostly successful playwright, is spending some time in the borrowed house of her friend, the famous stage actress Molly Fox, while she attempts to get a start on writing her next play. Readers spend one day in the company of the playwright while she rattles around Molly's house casting about for inspiration for her new play and lost in her own thoughts of the past as she contemplates her relationships with Molly and an old college friend turned famed television art historian, Andrew Fforde. The day in question, of course, is Molly's birthday, which also happens to be the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice. Obviously, there's not much action, most of which involves the narrator buying food, preparing food, and eating food while she contemplates her friends and the past during the heat of a beautiful summer day.
That night she was communicating something of her deepest self in a way that is only possible for her when she is on stage. Is the self really such a fluid thing, something we invent as we go along, almost as a social reflex? Perhaps it is instead the truest thing about us, and it is the revelation of it that is the problem; that so much social interchange is inherently false, and real communication can only be achieved in ways that seem strange and artificial.
"We were talking about her work and she said that there's a kind of truth that can only be expressed through artifice. She said that what she wanted to convey to people through her work, more than anything else, was reality. It was a question of showing something familiar but in a moment outside time; saying, 'Here's love, here's sorrow. Do you recognise them?' I thought it was a good way of putting it."I won't say I wasn't occasionally aware that the course of the narrator's reflection was subtly manipulating me toward the truths Madden was trying to illuminate with her story, but on the whole the playwright's meandering thoughts flowed in a surprisingly natural way with brief interruptions for the minutia of a day spent alone with the occasional happening that served as a natural redirect. So taken in was I by the playwright's friends as magnified by her thoughts and the very true insights she seemed to easily arrive at through the course of the day that I hardly wanted it to end. In Molly Fox's Birthday, Deirdre Madden manages to accomplish the rare feat of both telling us and showing us just how great a deal of truth there is to be found in fiction. Highly recommended!