Vacuum in the Dark: A Novel by Jen Beagin

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While her parents were busy ruining their marriage, she’d spent three or four days a week with her paternal grandfather, Woody Boyle, a mild-mannered man, an avid reader and functional alcoholic. But he’d taught her all of life’s essentials: how to spit like a man, take a good photograph, drive stick, make a stiff drink, swim butterfly, French-braid, and, perhaps most importantly, how to play dumb.

Mona’s voice is always entertaining for me as it’s unfiltered. In Pretend I’m Dead it was all about her love for drug addict Mr. Disgusting and his “creepy honesty.” She staunchly remains messy, keeps her cracks like we all do and isn’t going to transform into a perfect human ideal giggling under some rainbow because she has it all figured out. Does anyone ever truly do this in real life? Wherever you go, there you are whether you’ve gained wisdom or not, you’re still you! So Mr. Disgusting is out, what does she do? Takes up with a married man she calls Dark, of course, which isn’t really a step up from chasing after her dead junkie boyfriend. Still cleaning other’s filth, she spends her days swooning over the love notes he brazenly leaves behind for her to find on her cleaning days at his home. The stupor their love-making puts her in dissipates when Rose, his wife, enlightens her about the true state of their marriage. Then there is the mystery pooh, yep… poop. Jen Beagin can spin some of the strangest situations for Mona, darkly hilarious, she seems to witness people at their lowest. I shouldn’t grin like a lunatic when I read her books but I do. This novel is a great escape from the usual writing out there.

Soon she meets the barbarians, cats owned by the Kosas, a pill popping Hungarian couple. The murderous cats are as exotic as Lena and Paul, both artists with a house that feels like a lover waiting to be explored by Mona. Explore it she does, making her own art, taking photographs while talking to herself (Terry, her subconscious or imaginary friend), crossing boundaries, as always. We learn more about Mona’s past in this book. Yoko and Yoko (Shiori and Nigel) are still telling her to ‘stay curious’ but she isn’t curious enough about her childhood, would rather leave what is hiding in that dark abyss untouched. Lena and Paul convince her to pose nude for them, but it’s the way Lena helps Mona feel carefree enough to ‘bare’ herself that bonds them as much as Lena’s “war stories”. Then there are the pills, no big deal… Lena can mentor her, help her get her foot into the art world, do something with her photographs. Lena helps her give birth to the meaning behind her pictures, which tell a story Mona hadn’t been paying attention to until Lena’s keen eye comes along. Their intimacy happens fast, Mona is finally opening herself up to someone, telling Lena a story she buried long ago, making her vulnerable in a way she has never been and just like that, Lena is gone, a sudden abrupt departure.

Mona is left alone to pose for Paul as Lena is called away for work at the gallery, props are firing off memories of her past better left untouched. She discovers through Paul that Lena hasn’t been as open and forthcoming as she seems. There is something about Mona that has inspired Lena to pull her into their world, that has Lena praying for her and for rain, rain in a clear sky. Paul wants too much from her, it begins to feel wrong, and to the surface the muck of her long-held shame rises. The couple may be a catalyst forcing her to understand that her long held beliefs about her relationships have been skewed, always forcing her into the role of villain.

Licking her wounds from betrayal, her biological mother calls and asks her to come out to LA and pick up the boxes she has kept. Returning feels like regressing, and her mother and stepfather Frank seem to have ‘gone to the birds’. Drug abuse, mental illness… all sorts of troubles in her family genetics, but things can change, people can sober up and face their pain. It’s never too late for one’s mother to take her rightful place in your life, is it?  For Mona, it’s ‘mercy’ that brings her to tears, and tough Frank may surprise her as much as her ‘reformed’ mother. The forces of nature lead her to a man named Kurt and Bakersfield but old habits die hard, Mona doesn’t always do the right thing for herself, and she sometimes figures things out too late, but some people take the long way home. Mona likes to chase her own tail, but by the end she may find direction and clarity.

I think Jen Beagin is fantastic because maybe I enjoy my characters shell-shocked by their life experiences, it is easier to relate to imperfection. I loved it!

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Scribner

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Finding Dorothy: A Novel by Elizabeth Letts

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“Oh,” Maud said. “I don’t know the first thing about theater. How does one go about becoming a theatrical man?”

“Well, I wasn’t fit for anything else,” Frank answered, his eyes crinkling up into a smile. “Not a whit of business sense, I’m afraid- unless that business is magic.” 

Maud Gage “understood that she has been anointed- she must not let her mother down.”  Matilda, her mother, had fought for women to be seen as equals to men, for women to have the right to earn college degrees (the only hope for a better future) something she herself was denied. When Maud’s older sister Julia cannot fulfill her progressive mother’s expectations due to health difficulties, Maud must take her place. At Sage  (Sage Hall was built to house females at Cornell back in 1875) she befriends Josie Baum, and realizes that her ‘eccentricities’ that at home were encouraged make her feel like a complete misfit at Cornell. Women may have more doors open to them than her mother ever did, but aren’t meant to be engaging, are expected to fade into the wallpaper. For all the talk of equal rights, women are still expected to be ‘like a houseplant’ more for pretty decoration, to be less engaging, to bend to a man’s will and be a rapt audience who fawns over the male pontificating in the classroom rather than voicing their views. If they don’t land a husband their only other option, educated or not, is to return back home to their parents, where they are managed instead by their father or mother. It is through her friend Josie Baum that she meets her future husband, when Josie invites her over to her to a party at her house over Christmas break.  Josie’s cousin Frank, a man of the theater (actor, director, stage manager of the small traveling  Baum Theater Company) who will go on to write the much-loved children’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Frank, whose name starts with F. F, the letter that during a seance with her group of friends at the college appeared on the board, whose name her future husband begins with, if you believe that sort of thing and of course… of course she doesn’t. Does she?

The joy of this novel is how Maud and others served as Frank’s inspiration, from a fear of scarecrows to a sad, lonely niece, her special doll and the dress that inspired Dorothy’s iconic gingham one. Anyone who has ever watched Dorothy will warm while reading about the birth of Oz. It wasn’t all success for Maud, whom watches her own sister’s poor choice of the heart and every sorrow and hardship that follows. Her own path now tied to Frank Baum’s, she must bust free from the confines of her mother’s plans, marrying a man whose life is spent on the road with his theater. When she has a child, he must find a career to support Maud and their infant son, working as a salesman and trying to ignore his ‘flights of fancy’. They experience loss, Maud’s severe illness during her second pregnancy,  changes in career for Frank, family strain and deep grief between she and her sister Julia while living in the vastness of Dakota territory.

Future Maud is a widow, nearing 80 and on the set of the film The Wizard of Oz. Here she meets and befriends Judy Garland, developing tender feelings for the lonely, young woman whose overbearing stage manager mother doesn’t seem to protect enough. Bullied by everyone from the director to her co-stars, spies watching her diet like a hawk, young Judy Garland spends a lot of time on the verge of a breakdown, her insecurities fueled by on set cruelties but finds a nurturing presence in Maud, as well as insider information on the part she wants to play to perfection. Who understands Dorothy better than Baum’s own wife, inspiration behind the beloved characters? Too, Maud will fight to keep one of the now most famous songs Somewhere Over the Rainbow from being cut from the film, as much as fight to see young Judy isn’t smacked around, literally. This ‘old woman’ will not be pushed aside, she has made a promise to her husband’s memory and herself that this film must do justice to Frank’s tale, not diminish it! Having been raised by a mother who was quite the suffragette, it seems like destiny that Maud witnesses the binding of Judy’s developed body, to make her appear younger, after all Dorothy was a little girl in the book and the attempts to deny her proper nutrition of course Maud sneaks tasty snacks to feed Judy herself! Such control a far cry from the rights her mother demanded, so far into the future and women still being handled, unrealistic expectations forced upon them. Maud, despite giving up her degree for marriage wasn’t one to retreat, her marriage to Frank dealt her many hardships that even the most educated, progressive woman would break under. They always had love and respect, and she is due credit as much as Frank’s own diligence, for his success. Maud was a woman who managed their family finances, raised their two sons while Frank’s career often pulled him away, who pushed her husband to realize his dreams.

While the relationship between Maud and Judy Garland is tender, the past is the heartbeat of this novel. I don’t think I will ever watch the film without thinking of all the sorrows that touched the Baum’s. There is a lot of heartbreak, the story isn’t all rainbows and good witches but that’s not to say there isn’t a lot of happiness too. Beautiful, I didn’t expect to like this novel as much as I did. It’s a very rich story!

Publication Date: February 12, 2019

Random House Publishing

Ballantine Books

 

 

The Age of Light: A Novel by Whitney Scharer

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Or Lee could tell the real story: the one where she loved a man and he loved her, but in the end they took everything from each other- who can say who was more destroyed.

Man Ray was an American visual artist who spent much of his career in Paris, France and was a part of the Dada and Surrealist movement but this is about his love affair with Lee Miller. Lee Miller was an American who began as a fashion model in the 1920’s, her passion was photography leading her to become a serious photojournalist in her own right for Vogue during World War II. Certainly photographing horrific carnage, Nazi horrors is a far cry from her days of posing nude, her wild nights of partying and lovemaking while she was working in Paris as Man Ray’s assistant and lover. Being a man’s muse wasn’t ever going to be enough for Lee, whose beauty betrayed a talent that could rival the men she worked for.  Man was seventeen years Lee Miller’s senior, photographed her obsessively, hungered to understand her beyond her flawless, ‘ideal’ beauty. Her beauty was overwhelming, blinding, a thing most people cannot look past. One must imagine she was a fascinating woman, Man Ray photographed some of the most famous people of our time and yet couldn’t get enough of Lee. Their love blazed for years, and in that time both betrayed each other in love, and in career (Man failing to credit her in famous work).

Their love seems to move in phases, sometimes he seems like her father, sometimes like her child, at other times an erotic lover hungry for all sorts of playful exploration involving pushing the edge of each other’s boundaries.  Speaking of fathers, ruminating about the relationship between Lee Miller and her own father Theodore, one can understand where the rumors of possible sexual abuse by him was born. It’s no secret she was sexually abused (raped) when she was only 7 years old while in the care of a family friend, contracting gonorrhea, a downright horrific disease for a child to suffer but that nude photos followed that event, that her own father snapped of her “as art”, can’t help but leave one feeling disturbed. Their relationship was strange, he seemed at times more a lover than a father, which comes into play in the novel when Man finally meets him. Her beauty and body didn’t belong to her in the early years, it’s hard to understand how free and open she was about nudity and sexuality after such a traumatic violation. Maybe being raised as her father’s model made her body become an instrument for her? We are the sum total of our experiences, whether we like it or not, we can let the horrible trauma we suffer be our ruin or we can decide to own our destiny. She had some serious grit! This wasn’t a woman who was going to cower in the presence of any Master.

Man Ray’s own sexuality was a curious thing for the times, rumors swirled about him, naturally he used his love of Miller as a shield. Certainly that didn’t endear him to her, nor the ways he tried to control and manage her. She was a young woman, not quite resigned to a life of staying in and playing at the ‘happy couple’ he wanted to be, she hungered for experiences that would fuel her artist’s mind. There is a line in the novel, “Their gaze made her into someone she didn’t want to be”, and Man was guilty of molding her into some ideal too. There was always a distance within her, she loves him and questions that love, sometimes you can feel a hesitation in giving all of herself to him. She has made this happen, she was the master of her own ship, famously telling him she was to be his student, mind you he wasn’t taking any students.She wasn’t a woman who waited for things to happen, she pursued her desires whether it was for flesh or photographs. Such ambition and commitment is difficult for any of us, but for a woman in the 1930’s, wildly admirable. She needed open love, needed to fall into bed with whom she pleased, separating love from sex when it came to different people. Not such an anomaly really, plenty of people are into open love, and her youth and beauty certainly provided her a smorgasbord of opportunity and temptation, is just doesn’t bode well in a relationship with a man who wants promises.  Man was possessive and jealous, he began to need her and desperation is never attractive to the young. She has her warning early in the relationship upon meeting another of his muses, a former lover Kiki (sultry performer and dancer) who causes a jealous scene. Man tells her his former relationship was simmering in jealousies.

As with any love, the cracks begin to appear. Lee’s fresh ideas are in contrast to Man’s own lack thereof, then comes their perfecting a technique called solarization, based on her discovery, but it is the bell jar photo series that is at the heart of their relationship’s decline. Masters can’t let their students eclipse them completely, right? It’s his studio, his name… Throughout the novel he wants to possess and consume her, crack her skull open, know all her secrets and dissect her because he never seems to reach the center. Man becomes a vulnerable mess, a beggar, desperate that she never leaves him. He loves her, they have fierce passion for each other, but sometimes love that starts as a fire can fizzle out, and all that’s left is ash, smoke.

The story flows between the past and the future where Lee Miller is working as a photojournalist for Vogue, where some of her most famous, shocking  work was produced, during the Second World War. The woman she became seems nothing like the beautiful muse of the past, but she was always there inside, waiting to break free. Then she reinvented herself into a wife, Lady Penrose. The attic becomes the keeper of her past. What a hell of a story! I am going to read her son’s (Antony Penrose) memoir about his ‘unconventional’ mother, The Lives of Lee Miller.

This book has quite a bit of sexuality, of course it does, this is Paris in the 1930’s following a Bohemian set. It’s all sex, art, and libération! Much of Man Ray and Lee Miller’s relationship was about their sexual need for each other as much as their creative life together, it is said Man couldn’t get enough of her. This really is a brilliant book!

Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Little, Brown and Company

The Weight of a Piano: A Novel by Chris Cander

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“Now, stop with the crying before your misery becomes contagious.”

The Weight of a Piano is a heavy one in this latest novel by Chris Cander. The story begins with Julies Blüthner (maker and founder of Blüthner piano and factory in Leipzig Germany)  walking through the forest high in the Romanian mountains searching for the perfect tree for his creations. One such piano will be given to Ekaterina “Katya” Dmitrievna when she befriends a sad, elderly German musician. “The music was proof of his torment. He was a monster, a demon, and ogre. Katya loved him.” So too begins her passion for music, and her talent leads her to become herself a musician as she grows up in the Soviet Union. The piano becomes as much the love of her life as anyone. Then she meets Mikhail Zelden, whose studying civil engineering, ‘very important work’, and wonders “what would it be like to love him?” This love will take her to America, where the life she lived before resembles nothing like the one she and Mikhail are forced to make with their child. The piano is left behind in Russia, for a while, Mikhail promises, only until he can finagle a way to deliver his wife her beloved instrument which is no easy feat. The piano is the one thing that keeps Katya sane, that eases her suffering, the touching of keys an emotional release that’s become her lifeblood.

It’s 2012 and we meet Clara living in California , current owner of the Blüthner,  gifted to her by her father when she was only 12, the old thing  now collecting dust and unplayed in her guest bedroom until her relationship comes to an end and she must find another place to live. She is desperate to sell it, no room for the piano to go, it’s become baggage she’d be better off unloading, though it remains the only tie to her father, whose tragic death in a mysterious fire along with her cold, distant mother left her orphaned when she was young. What does she, a mechanic, need the Blüthner for anyway when she can’t  even play the thing, as her ex reminded her constantly. Where Katya found sanctuary with the piano, for Clara it was in her uncle’s garage, sent to live with he and her aunt after her parents deaths, burying her shocking grief by learning about the inner workings of automobiles, if only she better understood her own insides. Reluctant to commit to any boyfriend, she finds herself alone again, and worse she impulsively sold the Blüthner to a man named Greg Zeldin, whose already sent people from New York to pick it up. Striking a deal to rent it to him, she breaks her hand, making it impossible for her to work, at the worst time possible. Soon she finds herself journeying to Death Valley, where the photographer plans to complete a series of photos with the Blüthner as his main subject, her mechanic skills could be of use in the middle of nowhere, a handy excuse. Less than enthused about the plan, it may well be just what she needs to get her head on straight, pull her life into some semblance of order again.

Tormented by her childhood still at 26, the fights and silences between her parents,  her own mother’s mysterious bottomless dissatisfaction with their little family of three, Clara slowly opens up to Greg and discovers he too is haunted by his past. As his own story begins to take shape, it dawns on the reader why the Blüthner is vital to his work, cathartic even. As the two become closer they begin to find clarity and meaning in things that happened in their childhoods. Connections are made that can only be formed with an adult mind. What they learn of each other may be key to release them from the burden of their pain.

The story swims back and forth between Clara’s tale and Katya’s, from her time in Russia and the early days of her blossoming love and marriage to Mikhail, to the hardships of their lives as immigrants, it’s damning affects on their son. I enjoyed Katya’s story the most, I could have read a book about her and Mikhail and been just as sated. The ending was beautifully symbolic and I was surprised and proud of Clara’s choice. You don’t have to be interested in pianos to enjoy this novel, nor be a musician of any sort. It is a book about dreams that die beneath the brutal harshness of reality and destiny. One moment can change everything, even sour great love. It is a tale of family dysfunction, loss, grief, music, homeland and how our childhood can haunt us far into the future. Definitely a good read!

Publication Date: January 22, 2019

Knopf

Doubleday Publishing

Pickle’s Progress: A Novel by Marcia Butler

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A worm in Pickle’s brain told him this was reasoning he should bite on. Everyone was entitled to a breakdown or a breakthrough, and if he were honest with himself, Pickle wasn’t sure which he were facing.

What did I just read? Twin brothers Stan and Pickle McArdle are just as connected, though grown men, as they were in their toxic mother’s womb. They don’t live together anymore, which is a bit inconvenient for Pickle and Karen, but when Karen and her husband Stan get in an accident intoxicated out of their minds (a common occurence) a mixed up young woman named Junie becomes a strange catalyst for some serious sibling rivalry. Does it count as sibling rivalry if you’re unaware of it (Stan)? Is this entanglement a New York thing, kidding… It’s handy that Stan’s brother is on the police force, Pickle always comes through and cleans up their messes. This time the mess is coming home with Stan and Karen, Junie “a woman standing directly in front of them, perhaps five hundred yards away, with her hands at the side of her face, mouth open, like the Edvard Munch painting”, the reason for the accident. Boyfriend Jacob jumped off the bridge, but she didn’t follow. That’s the problem with pacts, someone often opts out after you’ve already committed, or chooses to do it without you. June is Pickle’s favorite month, could love be on the rise? Karen’s reasons for helping out a stranger in dire need of support begins to make sense as she befriends Junie, who feels like a freeloader. Stan isn’t thrilled about the young woman living in their brownstone, his nature is ‘odd’ but Karen seems more overbearing mother than wife.

Pickle, cleaned up all nice, takes in interest in Junie while also making demands on Karen, and what a deceptive piece our Karen is. Secrets, betrayals and at the heart of it all it began with a mother who chose one twin as her favorite. I kept having to remind myself this was written by a woman, Pickle has plenty of reasons for his rage towards Karen, his envy toward his brother, resentment too but I didn’t feel there was a woman’s voice, isn’t that odd? We’re meant to have empathy for Karen, but in my mind her arm didn’t take much twisting and certainly she isn’t as smart as she plays up when there are a million ways she could have handled everything. I know, it makes no sense until you read, but I refuse to post spoilers. Junie is this mess that could have been a hell of a character but instead spends more time in retreat.

I hate you, I love you would be the perfect summary for what is going on between all the major players. Karen has the perfect setup, she has Pickle right where she wants him but he isn’t playing her game anymore. Her control is dimishing. It’s that ‘breakdown’ or ‘breakthrough’ thing racing through Pickle’s veins, plans swirling through his mind that won’t allow him to live in shackles anymore, funny for a cop, how captive he’s allowed himself to be.  Junie, despite Stan’s resistance, could be an antidote to all his misery. Stan is the most believable character, his artlessness, his lack of self-awareness, it’s obvious he doesn’t slip out of his own mind enough to wonder at everything happening all around him. It’s hard to hate him, there’s something childlike about him. The twins are wildly different, Pickle is abrasive where Stan is diluted in his ‘masculinity’ so to speak. Which unraveling Stan makes it easy to understand why their twisted mother favored him, if she had a bone in her body of maternal love, which is doubtful, it’s possible there was fear he would be lost on his own. Junie, I don’t know, she was more a presence than a character I could connect with. Pickle and Karen, those two are absolutely their own problem and each other’s. I just could not like either of them. I still don’t have a clue who Junie is, to be honest. I keep going back to her angry because she should have blazed brighter with such a wild start.

The ending, maybe a little too neat for me. I mean, all’s well that ends well, really? I want to witness the confrontations, you’re telling me everything just lines up? Who are these people?

Publication Date: April 9, 2019

Central Avenue Publishing

 

Instructions for a Funeral: Stories by David Means

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The problem is, my son sees the man I am now and not the men I was before I became the man I am not.

I have conflicted feelings about this collection of stories. The best of it for me is in Fatherhood, The Problematic Father, “…the fact that my father was highly problematic at times came in part from that fact that he was dealing with me.” Have any truer words ever been spoken? We also don’t see all the versions of our fathers, who they were before they became simply, Dad. I think sometimes in reading we expect men to express the way they feel about their children and fatherhood in the same way mothers do and fault them for their genuine thoughts. How do you explain how it feels being a man, particularly a father, one who can “bear up under certain responsibilities”, about the limitations.

In Farewell, My Brother there is a line about a man named Frankie, ‘he’s one of those who came lumbering out of the vapor, his sway and his sea-dog talk marking him as an anomaly.’ What a gorgeous way to paint the picture for readers, David Means can certainly give life to his characters. His is a keen eye into decline, ruin. I feel a deep sense of detachment moving through so many of the characters, that hopeless feeling of pointlessness. There is suffering, sure, anyone alive suffers but even meeting the pulsing source, the cause which so much of the time is the life we’re living, doesn’t change much for us. Life can feel like a mystery illness sometimes.

Carver and Cobain… “his mind is impenetrable, untraceable step by step through those last moments”, which makes me think, in many ways, our minds are always like that, because we never can really express our pain, nor our joy whether we’re an award-winning author or ill-fated grunge star, can we? For Cobain it’s the end… the end… the end, isn’t it? Chronic pain, addiction only those living inside of it can understand the compulsion to obliterate it all. Is there a moment of regret at the very end, shocked awake when it’s too late?

It’s not that the writing is too intelligent for most readers, and there are depths to explore, but not all stories flowed, and I hate saying that because there is serious storytelling in here. In Rockland, the senseless ache, the realization that no amount of ‘humiliation’ will necessarily be a cure. You want to fuel that hope for your loved one, but it’s dying, a brother is trapped in a loop of his own addiction, and how do you find joy in the possibility of ‘flight’ as a means to an end to all that suffering. Some of us will never find our path, are fated to be lost in ourselves be it addiction or mental illness, even worse a combination of the two.  For all the upbeat talk, the centers, the group homes, the medications and therapies, promises of salvation, for the moments light seems to return to our loved ones, outside in the real world the limitations of reality are waiting for our beloved to break themselves against all over again. The writing is astute but some readers may find the delivery difficult to follow.

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

 

Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak

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You pay attention because you have to pay attention. The world isn’t going to unfurl itself for you. You have to pry it open.

College, that place that draws people from all walks of life together, broadens your world view, lets the priveledged and working class rub shoulders and be better for it, this is the meeting place for one hell of a story. For Violet Trapp it was her intelligence and hard work, not her parent’s money that lands her at the private college. There isn’t an inkling of homesickness in her body, not for the mother who, while poor, was ‘the worst sort of snob’ and a violent one at that. Violet wants nothing more than to forget her family entirely, to cut her roots. Vilolet, a 19 year old girl whose support and encouragement came from her teacher rather than her own parents. She will invent a world where she can be a success, join the ranks of the wealthy. Her first door into the world of privilege opens when she becomes roommates with Stella Bradley, after saving her. Beautiful, outspoken, indifferent because money allows such things, there are ‘unseen parts’ that over time Violet is privy to. Violet’s first time with the Bradley family is during Thanksgiving and before long she may as well be one of them. She becomes, she flourishes once Stella enters her life. Knowing this family, blending in with them, becoming one of them is a ‘golden opportunity’ and our Violett is always paying attention, it’s what people without options must do.

Their friendship transcends college, after graduation Violet moves to New York to work for cable news. They are grueling days, thankless, but at least she can afford to be there and in a beautiful apartment with a doorman at that all because of the ‘arrangement’ with Stella’s mother.  Stella, doing Stella things ‘wherever the wind takes her’, urges her to just live there, of course mother Anne expects pay, to make it official only. Even so it’s a deal other’s would kill for. In the vacuum of Stella’s absence, Violett works her way up the ladder, begins a flirtation with her co-worker Jamie and waits for her friend to show.  Stella’s ‘hot temper and impulsive spirit’ makes for disappearing acts and blunt cruelties now and then, like reminding Violett where she came from, more as a joke of course. Her impulsiveness and vanishing can come in handy though too, at least for Violet. The relationship works with Stella as top dog, they have their roles to play, so when Violet becomes the youngest associate producer, it’s not such a shock that Stella decides to use her connections to get into the news.

When you’re beautiful and beguiling, and wealth is your superpower, any mistakes you make is ‘charming’. Stella has such charm in buckets and buckets, their roles are the ‘poor girl’ and ‘the rich girl’ and often Violet seems more like a stray the Bradley’s took in, or a pet project. Despite all her hard work, Stella surpasses her, easing into everything she wants without the sweat, blood and tears Violet must squeeze out of her worn out self. Stella’s fast rise in the business is as effortless as her beauty. Stella is demanding and often tyrannical, and when you live on the charity of the wealthy, friend or not, ‘like a daughter’ or not, you will be at the constant beck and call, a permanent audience to their dramas.

“The meager territory I had claimed as my own, the little patch of land free from Stella Bradley’s shadow- it was gone, invaded, colonized.” From here, the novel descends into darker more treacherous water and only one “It Girl” can exist. It gets twisted, and both are guilty of heinous behaviors, psychological warfare until one of them snaps.

This reminds me a lot of The Talented Mr. Ripley, not entirely, but similar dynamics. Who the hell do you root for here? Both are deceptive and selfish, though it’s easier to understand where Violet is coming from, she is relatable. What is it about some female friendships, that rivalry, the jealousies that often simmer beneath the surface of things? Envy that buzzes around like filthy flies? Of course most friendships of this vein end in childish tiffs, not crimes. Why do some people always have to demand what’s yours, even when they don’t really want it? Stella likes Violet in her place where she is insecure, uncultured, needy and dependant on her whims. She isn’t about to let Violet stand on her own two feet, no way, not when her benevolence, her family’s charity helped mold her. Stella isn’t as unobservant as Violet thought, and much more conniving but has underestimated just how badly Violet wants her territory back! Why should Stella always win, why should she be destined for great things wrapped up in her cloud of arrogance and indifference, it means nothing to her, she doesn’t earn anything! So we spiral…

This is a disturbing novel, especially once you get to part 3. Definitley add this novel to your May reading list!

Publication Date: May 21, 2019

Little, Brown and Company