How Beautiful They Were
High-Top Publishing, 2019
Style, affectation and melodrama, characterize Boston Teran’s historical novel How Beautiful They Were leaving readers to have to decide early on if they are going to allow it to carry them away or if they are going to fight against the current. If readers allow themselves to flow with the stream, then they will discover an alluring thriller.
It is the 1850s, and we enter the New York theatre scene. Cutting between the past and present of the characters’ lives, we read a story at once flashback and queerly contemporaneous. An actor, playwright, a grifter, and an ingenue all entwine to play out a drama readers won’t be able to parse together so easily but will be enamored to watch unfold.
Teran has a stunning skill in writing dialogue and dealing with characters deeply entrenched in theatrics allows for this strength to run wild. One might find it a bit much at times, that is, over the top, yet it fits with the narrative Teran has crafted. The novel’s dialogue is also the driver of the story, meaning it’s fast pace and poppy style enlivens the prose allowing for there to be extended descriptive passages.
All of Teran’s characters run hot. There is no moment in the novel where any single character either isn’t involved in a serious internal monologue or repartee. We see this in an early scene in the novel expressing a love for the stage, for acting that runs through the whole of How Beautiful They Were and, arguably, defines it:
Tearwood embraced the hours in the theatre alone with his memories. the quiet, empty seats there in the dark. he would sometimes wander out to where the lights would be, his boots echoing on the worn stage boards, breathing in the musty silence to relive scenes that had been so much a part of his life’s journey. He hated the thought that age is married to sorrow or regret, because they diminish oneself in their own eyes. And besides, he still had the hunger he knew as a boy to costume and makeup, then reach out into the dark as a stranger, embracing moments of love or hate, madness and jealousy, murder, the more vile or beautiful the better. To live where art and life are impossible to separate.
That last line, “To live where art and life are impossible to separate.” is the animus of the story and the drive within each character. It, of course, leads them to ruin.
One would think after several chapters it would become tedious if not tiresome. However, How Beautiful They Were somehow avoids this giving itself over entirely to the stylistic demands of the literary thriller. What readers enjoy is a historical novel at once thriller, romance, and mystery. Combining these genre tastes virtually demands Teran set the novel in the Theatre. The drama or, rather, melodrama we experience isn’t trifling but urgent, impassioned, and suave.
Readers will find How Beautiful They Were to be panic inducing in the way witnessing the best plays are. It is an anxiety making theatre the wonderful experience it is and for Teran to distill that trait and infuse it into prose is no small accomplishment.
About the Author
Boston Teran is a pseudonym for the internationally acclaimed author of eleven novels, many of them translated into foreign languages. The author has been nominated or won over 12 awards, including the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Foreword “Book of the Year Award” as well as the International Impact Award of Dublin for Best Novel, the Best Novel of the Year in Japan, and the John Creasy Award in England.