Cover Image: We Play Ourselves

We Play Ourselves

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Jen Silverman turns her well-honed dramatic literary skills to a novel about a playwright - one who made a terrible decision on an opening night in NYC. What follows is the playwright’s journey from NYC to LA to her hometown in New Hampshire; from despair and failure to ..... if not success, then maybe a more evolved evaluation of what it means to live the life of a creative person. For fans of theater, there is plenty of professional detail of the insular NYC theater scene, as well as swelling prose mapping the heart of every theater-maker. A very moving and spontaneous novel.
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"We Play Ourselves" is an enjoyable, sometimes-funny and often-sincere, story, and above all, a story about theatre: about success and failure in an extremely challenging and competitive landscape, and the strange and complicated relationships that people form in it. After a sudden success which leads to the disastrous collapse of her professional and personal life, protagonist Cass flees from New York to LA, where she becomes involved in her neighbor Caroline's film production, about a "fight club" made up of teenage girls. The first part of the book is told in alternating "real-time" events and flashbacks to the aforementioned scandal; the second and third parts occur in real time. The book is full of queer representation, and queerness is a theme which recurs quietly, in the background, and which I thought was done in an honest and nuanced way. 

The writing is engaging and the author does a wonderful job with developing the protagonist's voice. Cass is, if not precisely likable, sympathetic (though at times, my reader's secondhand embarrassment for her was difficult to bear!), and the book most shines when it is exploring her relationships with other characters, which are often charmingly strange. The book's focus is primarily on its characters and their growth and development, rather than a driving plot; this worked for me here (as it generally does) but it seemed to lag in energy at times, especially in the middle section. I won't add spoilers, but I really liked the ending as well. Some of the subplots (especially Dylan and Daniel's relationship) were intriguing but felt unfinished to me, or as if they could have been developed more fully. 

Overall, an enjoyable read for fans of contemporary literature, character-driven stories, or anyone who's in kind of a weird time in their life right now. My thanks to Netgalley and to the publisher for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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Who gets to tell your story? And do you get to reinvent yourself, as you move through the seasons of your life? Cass is an 'emerging young playwright' who is shocked when after 10+ years writing and producing off-Broadway plays, she receives a prestigious award, an agent, and an offer to produce her play in quick succession. It doesn't go as smoothly as she hopes it will. And after a horrifying incident, she retreats to LA where she meets a charismatic documentarian and her latest film's subject: a cast of teenage girls. 

As Cass inadvertently reinvents herself as she runs away from her problems in NYC, she discovers there's more to life than success. Poignant, and at times hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad, We Play Ourselves taps into the malaise that so many people feel as one chapter of their life closes and another begins.
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We Play Ourselves is a story about deeply flawed characters navigating through their own flaws and the messes they got themselves into by their own rights. There's no room for the main character, or anyone else, to blame others for the funks they find themselves in and they don't try to.

It dives into the world of art, sexuality and complex relationships and this is what might hook you in the most. The characters are not easily likable, but they aren't made to be and I've learned to appreciate that.

The author's writing style keeps you hooked with every turn, the flashbacks cut close enough to keep interest and quench your thirst for whatever happened before at the same time. 

But in the end, the book isn't the thriller you are promised and that might leave you a bitter taste if you don't adapt well - and it's not always easy to adapt well halfway through a book that doesn't deliver what's promised and especially if you're not into the genre offered.

All in, it's a fun yet poignant read that leaves you curious for what's to come for the author.
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I'm not sure what I was expecting, or even what I wanted from this book, and after reading it I can say that it was not what I was expecting but it was unique and brilliant. The writing is exceptional, the author's writing style is potent and it flows. She conveys Cass' emotions and feelings in a way that is unmistakable but appears effortless. This book kept twisting in ways that pulled me further and further in. I loved the way the author described the characters and how different she managed to make NYC/the theater world feel from LA. I really had no clue what to expect from this book, but it ended up being a coming of age novel for those people who are the black sheep of their family or think that they're not as successful as they thought they would be by this point in their lives. Additionally, I love that she makes this point with the main character who is 33, with a 22 year old recent college grad, and with a 50-something director, showing that these feelings and fears are universal.
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Thank you Netgalley for this ARC of We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman.

Cass has had to go back to LA after a theater scandal left her shamed, despite her climbing fame in NY.  She was known as being an up and coming queer playwright, but now she is hiding and figuring out how to restart her life.

But in a short period of time, Cass meets Carolyn, another playwright who works with teen girls, creating an edgy niche in theater.  But can Cass get behind what Carolyn is doing after suffering her own scandal?  And is Carolyn causing permanent damage to these girls for what she is doing?

Meeeeeh, nah.  I wasn't into this one.  It felt like it was one long, confusing run on sentence.  The story went all over the place, I couldn't tell if we were in past or present tense, and all of the characters were forgettable and not that likable.  Not my cuppa.
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Thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy of this one..
I really enjoyed this story of Cassie, an up-and-coming queer feminist playwright, who flees to LA after a scandal of her own making. As she attempts to start over, she becomes entangled with a morally questionable filmmaker and her current project. The writing and character development are great, and the novel discusses art, sexuality, ambition, success and failure in some really interesting ways. Can’t wait to read more from this author.....
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Let it be known that I've finally found a book that perfectly illustrates the fact that theater and film people are The Absolute Worst™. Jen Silverman has done a public service, and for that we should honor her. This novel is filled with the insufferable people I've encountered time and time again, in all their iterations. This definitely doesn't exclude the main character, Cass. This is a book filled with whining, entitlement, and mistakes on her part. And somehow the reading experience isn't a total drag? What a miracle.

I really enjoyed experiencing Cass' growth over the course of my read, but what most stands out to me is Silverman's humor. As previously hinted, if you have ever worked in theatre or film, you should absolutely pick this up. The self-importance, performative allyship and activism, and general absurdism that come with knowing many a theatre or film person leap off the page here. Showing these sorts of folks for the fools they are was nothing short of cathartic for me.

And the jealousy! Jealousy is a huge factor here. Tara-Jean Slater is the villain in Cass' universe, having risen to enormous success while Cass has floundered. The way Cass fixates on and obsesses over Tara-Jean is equal parts hilarious and pitiful. Moreover, Tara-Jean is made messiah by the theatre community despite the fact that she is completely unremarkable and just in the right place at the right time. Her ideas aren't particularly original, and her poetry! I can't. The layers of ridiculousness, simply sublime. When their paths converge, their conversations are some of my most favorite scenes in the entire novel.

Cass' relationship with B.B., one of the girls participating in the film mentioned in the synopsis, is another one of the highlights of the novel for me. B.B. is precocious and biting in the way that many teenagers can be, without being made overly so in either respect. She brings real humanity to a film subplot that can be devoid of it thanks to the director, Caroline. She also calls out bullshit in a novel full of it, which can serve as quite a relief.

I should say that the synopsis for this is incredibly misleading and suggests that there is a thriller or mystery twist at the center of the narrative. This is absolutely not the case. If you'd like to strap in for a belated coming of age, though, this is a book for you. The novel is way more focused on a self-obsessed, delusional artist becoming an actually decent human being. The film Cass takes part in is a big portion of the novel, to be sure, but the last quarter or so has absolutely nothing to do with that. In that way, I think the pitch for this is a disservice, because it's an interesting narrative — just not the interesting narrative you'd assume it is.

The reason the novel doesn't entirely succeed for me despite being well written and crafted boils down  to two simple things: plots and conclusions. 

There's a bit too much going on in this relatively short book. For instance, there's an entire subplot about Cass' Los Angeles roommates that doesn't tie into the larger narrative at all and takes up a decent amount of pages. While relatively intriguing, it just didn't fit into the novel's flow. I'd rather have taken that time to learn more about the girls at the center of Caroline's film, since only B.B. was fleshed out in any way.

Most importantly, I don't think this story told me anything new or presented any "lessons" in an interesting way. Success is fleeting, and it can ruin you. Successful people are often wildly unhappy. Artists have a propensity to use other people, sometimes in cruel and vile ways, to further their art. I've heard all of this a million times before.

This is a solid long-form debut for Silverman nonetheless. I'll look back on this one fondly, thanks to how much it spoke to me.
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I absolutely loved WE PLAY OURSELVES. It is one of those books where the act of reading the author's incredible writing is such a joy, and it was both hilarious and heartbreaking. We follow Cass, a 33 year old playwright in NYC that gets her big break as her play is produced off-Broadway but shortly thereafter, does something so shocking that it makes her flee to LA as an attempt to run away from a life that, in her eyes, is crumbling fast. The book is about failure and success, realizing that you can't run away from your problems just by leaving places, and (most entertainingly) a takedown of pretentious art, theatre, and filmmaking. I loved Silverman's weird and specific characters, and Cass was certainly a character I could relate to (for better or worse). I will certainly read anything by her in the future, and cannot recommend this one enough.
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The protagonist in “We Play Ourselves” is Cass. She’s a young, queer, 30-something playwright from New York City. First, she writes a play. Then earns an award for said play. And immediately leaves town in a shame spiral after doing something really bizarre. 

In L.A., she temporarily moves in with her gay friend and his partner, and gets sucked into the “Mormon Sex Cartel” next door. (This is a funny inside joke between the roommates.) Essentially she befriends Caroline, a hyper-confident filmmaker, who’s in the throes of an odd semi-documentary about teenage girl Fight Club. And this woman is oh-so manipulative.

“We Play Ourselves” is a dark comedy on the price of fame and the lengths people will go to get it. It’s also about the ways it [theatre, Hollywood, fame] makes people change and feel lonely.  It’s also about becoming who the person who you’re meant to be, and not caring what other people think. And it’s about picking yourself back up again.

Great satirical writing by author Jen Silverman. And amazing narration by Renata Friedman!


Special thanks to Random House for an eArc, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest feedback. I purchased a copy of the audiobook from Penguin Random House Audio to listen to while reading.
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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for this advanced review copy.

After an incident in New York expels her from the theatre world, Cass is ready to reset in LA. A late night drink with a magnetic neighbour gives her an opportunity to become someone else, Cath. 
As Cath she gets to be a gentler version of herself, working on a film deemed “a feminist Fight Club for girls.” She uses this new mask to shield and rebuild herself without the baggage of the disaster she’s left behind. Is this her opportunity to get her career back?

Nothing is what it seems and her self-indulgences and self-involvement ultimately leaves her naïve to what is happening on the periphery of her existence. We’re all depressed and broken and fucked up in our own ways.

I think ultimately this is a story of redemption and compassion and I enjoyed it very much.
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This book holds a special place in my heart right now. It is not perfect - Silverman's writing is wry and vaguely absurd and you really have to be in the right mood for it but when the stars align, it is like magic. Cass is a 33-year-old playwright who recently fled to LA following an incident that has derailed her NYC playwriting career. She befriends Caroline, the next door neighbor of her friend Dylan with whom she is staying, and gets caught up in a new movie Caroline is making that features a group of young girls and their rage. While constantly pining for the life she left and stumbling through the life she has fallen into, Cass ponders what it means to be both at the beginning and end of her career, what it means to love/be loved, and her own identity. 

I had the pleasure of working with Jen on her play <i>Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties... </i> at MCC Theater in NYC. I was the Assistant Company Manager then and since had been promoted to Company Manager only to lose my job at the start of the pandemic. I LOLED at almost every other line in this book as it perfectly captured the Off-Broadway (mostly non-profit) theater world: the dysfunctional relationship everyone in industry has with theater, casting famous people ("'She is a certain kind of famous, and that is how you get people to go to the theatre in America.' So we cast her."), the distinctions between LCT3 and the Mitzi (an actual conversation I've had before), how everyone in the theater world drinks ALL THE TIME, how we take everything so seriously but it's just theater and no one DIED, the stupidness of reviewers, and the marketing mechanisms that promote certain pieces. Silverman hits every little tidbit about this life on the nose, both breaking my heart with how much I miss it and reminding me of everything I hated. 

Silverman also perfectly touched on my life right now, especially with losing my job. I recently moved back to my parents and childhood bedroom, something Cass ends up doing by the end of the novel. Way back when, I remember all those moments of my parents seeing my name in the Playbill and understanding that I have an actual career and that I'm not wasting my time. Losing my job and moving home was tough but I was able to explore so many more hobbies and also work in a bookstore for the first time (books! Another passion of mine!) and I am honestly SO happy. Cass kept fighting her circumstances but felt fulfillment/okayness/being by the end. The last line of the novel really got me and left me in tears: "... and in this moment I have never been more unfindable, further from anywhere I expected to be, precariously- but thrillingly- suspended.". 

Theater is in a hard place right now, just like Cass is. The fact that this novel's final draft and publication date happened during this giant pause is probably the most precious and appropriate things that couldn't happened. I remember crying/laughing when I first read <i>Collective Rage</i> in a moment when I NEEDED that bit of absurd, delightful craziness and Silverman once again hit me in the heartstrings with <i>We Play Ourselves</i>. I immediately texted all my theater friends to READ THIS BOOK but it would also be amazing for anyone who works with heart and passion and sometimes has a reckoning with that.
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We first meet Cass, a young playwright once hailed as “a fierce new voice,” as she arrives in Los Angeles to avoid the fallout of a scandal back in the New York theatre world. After moving in with a friend, she’s quickly pulled into the orbit of her next-door neighbor, a charismatic filmmaker named Caroline whose current project focuses on a group of girls in a violent teenage fight club. 

As she begins spending all of her time on this ethically questionable project, it becomes clear that Cass is somewhat obsessed with success. She’s also more-than-somewhat obsessed with her nemesis, fellow playwright Tara-Jean Slater. 

Like all good nemeses, Tara-Jean Slater is annoyingly successful. She’s a senior at Yale and has already earned more critical acclaim than Cass has, a decade into her career. More annoyingly, she doesn’t even seem to care. 

This obsession culminates in the aforementioned scandal, the details of which we don’t learn until almost halfway through the book. I don’t want to ruin anything here, but it’s a little unhinged. 

The level of absurdity in that scene is in line with the type of humor throughout the book, which is part of what makes it a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you find the concept of a cardboard cutout of RBG staged in the background of a “documentary” about a teen girl fight club funny, for example, you’ll love it as much as I did. 

Silverman also does a great job of writing about perceptions of bisexuality in a way that feels incredibly accurate. As she mentioned in yesterday’s newsletter, bisexuals and other people with fluid sexualities can engender a “constant dubiousness ... a constant unwillingness to take [them] at face value.”

But while other characters may attempt to stick Cass with a particular label or consider her “confused” because of her bisexuality, Cass herself doesn’t find her sexuality perplexing. And even though her sexuality isn’t the focal point of her story, it’s refreshing to have a bisexual protagonist who’s comfortable with her own desires. 

Queer points: 
+3 for some asexual rep (a rarity!) 
+7 for a good bit of unrequited queer love for an older French woman 
+22 for a handful of references to Cate Blanchett
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Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This book took me completely by surprise, I did not expect to like it this much. It’s about so much to me, but mainly it tackles fame and the desire to be successful and the length one would go to get there. It’s about the impact you have on the people that you meet in your lifetime, how important it is to be kind. It’s about different kinds of intimacy and how easily we can confuse them all and much more. 

The characters were so well written that I couldn’t help but care about them, no matter how much I didn’t agree with the things they were doing. I also liked how the story completely changed gears in part 3, almost like the author knew we had had enough. And the ending was just right, I found myself with this great sense of hope and quietness when I had finished it. 

Also want to mention that the writing style was just beautiful and fit the story so well.
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I was initially drawn to this novel due to the description of the protagonist Cass as a queer, feminist playwright and was intrigued by the idea of a feminist twist on Fight Club. I was really excited to read this but it took me a while to get into it and I couldn't figure out if it was me (I've really been struggling with reading for the last few months) or the storyline. As I got deeper into the story I realized it is because this novel is full of character studies that are so well written that I was empathizing with each character and their relation to each other in a way that was making me read more slowly (much more slowly.) I was so impressed with how Silverman was able to build these character arcs and intersperse the creative concepts and processes of theatre and documentary film-making. There is so much more to this book (sexuality, identity, scandal, the marketability of #MeToo) but I loved this for Cass' coming of age story. I definitely recommend this but I believe readers will love it more if they are interested in theatre/film production, the creative process, and/or a queer woman's rollercoaster ride of fame, infamy, and personal recreation.
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Thank you to netgalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

This book was so different then I expected, in the best way possible. The description made it seem like a thriller, but it is definitely more about a character coming to terms with her her failure and how to pick herself up again after. There is also a lot of surprising satire about theatre in this book that I found hilarious. The writing was beautiful, and even though the characters weren't completely like-able, they were very well developed and realistic. 

Overall, I would recommend going into the book with 0 expectations to really appreciate the story for what it is. I am going to recommend this book to friends and keep an eye out for more books by this author in the future.
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Picture this: You leave NY because your world is crashing down. Your whole life was the theater, but you've been shunned, you decide to take refuge in LA. Only to realize that it might now be the escape you hoped when you get sucked into the world of your new filmmaking neighbor. 

I was in a book slump when I started reading this book, but 20 pages in, and I was hooked. I felt genuinely invested in what Cass -our main character- was going through and had to see how she would perceiver. 

Overall what I loved: 
-the satirical approach the author wrote the relationship her characters had with the theater and filmmaking 
-the story felt well-paced
-the writing was humorous yet still conveyed the main characters gritty, emotional turmoil, often on the same page- if not in the same sentence 
-the beautiful prose
-the queer rep

Also, I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover BUT how gorgeous is this one?!
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📚 I think WE PLAY OURSELVES isn't going to be for everyone - it's a bit wandering, almost none of the characters are likable, there's some really horrific stuff happening in the name of art - but I LOVED IT.
📚 This book is like PLAIN BAD HEROINES + PIZZA GIRL.
📚 I felt Cass on a few levels - trying to make art work, trying to find yourself by dropping out of your life, being an elder millennial trying to understand the universe young queer people live in - whewwww!
📚 Everybody is such a mess, but in a way that feels true to life. I've known (and sometimes been) these women trying to figure out where they belong and how to exist.
📚 There is a painful two-pronged critique of the art world: one thread about how tastemakers jump on what they think is new and cutting edge but it's really the same stuff repackaged in a more soul-crushing way, and another thread about how people in power will put that pain on display and mine it for profit, even when the creator is visibly suffering.
📚 There's also some really good stuff about tokenism and molding people to fit the story in your mind. I do want to point out what at first seems like some nasty asexual rep, but I do think it's pushed back on as much as possible in the moment (and it feeds back into my previous point about people in distress not getting the support they need).
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Not for me, but that's okay! I'm not interested in film making or Los Angeles subculture at all, so if you're into those two things then this book is for you!
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“I lie awake for a long time, eyes wide and dry, listening for the sound of something somewhere happening to someone before it happens to me.”

“If you’re wondering what it feels like to want two completely opposite things to the same degree, at the same time, for entirely different reasons-- it feels insane.  But then again, maybe it’s hard to be alive on this planet and not know how that feels.”

“‘There are so many lives ahead of us all.’”

This work of millennial fiction was an entertaining read that follows Cass, a thirty-something year old playwright, who flees NYC for LA after being involved in a scandal.  As Cass works to reinvent herself, she must also sort out the catastrophe she has caused. This novel focuses on themes of female genius, creativity, and rage; desire; jealousy; the subjectivity of art; and forgiveness (of one’s self and of others).  This novel also touches on how Hollywood, plays, and other art forms frequently use diversity, sexuality, gender, and trauma as ways to gain viewers and fans without actually ever caring about these issues or trying to change the ways in which these are viewed.  

Cass is a very contradicting character, and I related to her intensely.  She wants to be both at all times; she wants to be both successful or famous but also invisible.  She wants to be extremely happy but also just content.  She wants to be far, far away from home but also at home.  I found these depictions to be very realistic because I too also feel the intense desire and pressure to be everything at once.  And because that isn’t possible, it is far too easy to feel as if you are nothing.
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