I know it’s October but somehow the onset of this fall is making me slow down rather than speed up to greet the cooler weather. Apparently, I’m moving into a mental hibernation before winter even hits!
September is a big month in the book world and I was fortunate to read and review of number of anticipated novels. There is more to come in October but here are some mini-reviews of additional September reading.
Rainey Royal is a fourteen-year-old mean girl in the 1970s in the eponymous novel by Dylan Landis. She lives in an old brownstone with her jazz musician father and the rotating cast of acolytes who move through his life and infringe on hers. She is largely left on her own as her mother split for a spiritual retreat years ago and has not been in touch since. So, with an excess of chutzpah Rainey rules the girls around her and seems to thrill in her power over them and over any and all of the men she encounters.
Landis gives us a sharp portrait of a girl who, knowing that she has no protection in the world, generates her own white-hot force field of defense. There is no vulnerability in Rainey; she is one who will take anything and everything she wants, going so far as to rob a couple using a gun she stole. For her, it is a lark, an amusement with her best friend Tina. It is this kind of wanton cruelty that makes it hard to keep a different Rainey in sight. She has an artistic gift but it is buried so far down below the layers of posing and acting out that even as she gets older and is able to make her own choices she still uses the same behaviors to get ahead. Her friends move on to college and professional spheres but she continues in the rebellious teen mindset, manipulating people right up until the bitter end—and it is bitter. Despite being set in the 70s Rainey Royal reads like a contemporary novel with the pretty, self-absorbed, tough girl trope. Landis executes that aspect well, but I was left indifferent.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Published by Broadway Books
Publication date: September 26th 2006
Gillian Flynn seems to like nothing better than taking on what are deemed scared relationships. Gone Girl skewered marriage but her first novel, Sharp Objects, paints a mother-daughter portrait that positively drips blood. Compulsive reading that takes the sweet small town ethos and turns it on its ugly head.
Merritt Tierce joins the contemporary fiction faction with her debut novel Love Me Back, the story of Marie—a dysfunctional, self-harming waitress. All though well-written this novel is depressing from every angle. Marie is bright and destined for Yale when she gets pregnant by her high school boyfriend and has the baby. He is a well-meaning man but for whatever reason, she finds the lure of other men unavoidable and begins cheating on him. With nothing more than a high school degree she is relegated to a life of waitressing and somehow this comes paired with a life of drugs, drinking, and indiscriminate sex with numerous men.
Marie’s life is so full of both imposed and self-imposed degradation that reading it is difficult. Tierce opts for a style of prose that may accurately depict the splintered bits of Marie’s mind but it makes for a lot of confusion in determining what is the past or the present. That and a lack of proper names for a number of the men Marie encounters means the ability to connect with her story is diminished. Love Me Back falls into a category of contemporary literature that is difficult for me to understand. I believe in a woman’s right to own her sexuality and to break away from norms but Marie is not in control in her life. She is done unto not the doer. She is a smart, adult woman but allows herself to be sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and there’s nothing empowering about that. Perhaps I am simply missing the point of this type of work but I found it degrading and depressing as hell. The novel is flatlined in misery.