VAMP UNTIL READY

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Magruder—playwright, translator, and author of Let Me See It (2014)—begins from the point of view of Cary Dunkler, who, having graduated from high school a few years ago, is spinning his wheels working at the Army-Navy store selling “Belgian knapsacks and the world’s scratchiest socks.” His foster brother, Dave, who has just graduated after attending Cornell on a full scholarship, convinces Cary to try out for the local Hangar Summer Theatre, where Dave’s boyfriend, Gavin, is the artistic director. While Cary may not be a natural at musical theater, the job does net him a “showmance,” propels his life in an unexpected direction, and leads him years later to “claim that his life before the Hangar gig had just been vamping until ready.” With Cary’s summer over, Magruder jumps a couple of years forward, into the points of view of Cary’s co-worker Kristy, a minor character in the first section, and her children’s babysitter, Isa, a theatre major at Ithaca College who become involved with both that year’s season at the Hangar and with Kristy’s disreputable ex-husband, Wayne, a “hazel-eyed, cigarette-ad charmer.” The next two stories jump again in time and into the lives of two previously minor characters before the book circles back to Cary in the final story. It’s a tour de force performance, charming and unstrained, in which changes taking place offstage magically reset the narrative, and where the theater, with its state of “perpetual panic,” and Ithaca, with its “sprouty culture,” play roles as important as any character.

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