“She felt a loosening of something she’d tamped down for a long time, and it didn’t feel awful, it felt warm and liquid, and if the feeling were to take a sentient shape it would be an enormous glowing question mark,” Sweeney writes.
“Did she still have to accept a name she hated?
“Did she still love Julian?
“Did she have to stay married?
“Did she want to?”
If this sounds like promotional copy for a Netflix poster, well … success! Reading “Good Company,” I found myself mentally auditioning actors for the inevitable series. Tellingly, I did not find myself imagining more than a handful of actual, real-time scenes, because the book doesn’t have all that many. Much of the first third of the novel is taken up with back story. We see Flora struggling as a stage actor before finding work as a voice actor. We see Julian struggling with lukewarm love. In a “meet cute” so ridiculous that even the writers of “Cedar” would probably cut it, we see David, as a young doctor, rush onstage at a Shakespeare in the Park performance after an actor collapses onstage. He performs chest compressions in front of a stunned audience and, upon stabilizing the patient, is approached by Margot, ethereal in her fairy costume, who takes his hands in gratitude. The audience applauds.
In “The Nest,” a family saga about inheritance, Sweeney’s tendency toward cliché and Hallmark moments was undercut by the sharp edges and dark forces of at least a few characters. “Good Company” occasionally gestures in that direction. The woman involved in Julian’s betrayal is self-contradictory, even pathetic. The idea that such a person could wield so much sexual and emotional power is fascinating; I wanted more of her and a little less of Flora’s good girl hand-wringing.
Similarly, the behind-the-scenes machinations of the “Cedar” set offer moments of delicious satire. When Margot learns her character will be killed off, the show’s creator, a formidable but anxious doyenne in the Shonda Rhimes vein, indulges her in a brainstorming session about what would make for the most vanity-appeasing demise: “I’m giving you a kick-ass death. It’s going to be so good everyone will clamor to hire you.”
Sweeney is uncommonly skilled at gently lampooning Hollywood. Just as she absolutely nails the formulaic milieu of “Cedar,” her description of “Griffith,” the animated musical series on which Flora ultimately finds a steady, reasonably satisfying gig voicing a lioness, is pitch perfect. A show where animals at the now-defunct Griffith Park Zoo function as metaphorical representations of Hollywood actors pigeonholed by typecasting and ageism? Someone greenlight that immediately!
Meanwhile, “Good Company,” with its pre-scouted locations and fully rendered characters looking for things to do, is a promising piece of I.P. Sweeney may or may not have screenwriting ambitions, but I’d love to see her do something with it.