Published by Penguin Books
Publication date: December 1st 2015
Unbecoming follows a young woman named Grace from present day Paris to New York City and even Garland, Tennessee, slipping back and forth as her story and life unspool. In Paris, she is not even Grace but calls herself Julie and works for a woman who restores antiques and pays cash. As a young girl there was no stability in her life so when she met Riley in the fourth grade she fell not only for him but for his entire boisterous, loving family. Soon she spends more time with them than her own family and when they turn eighteen she and Riley secretly marry. So much love and sunshine, but by twenty-two, she’s in a dingy Paris apartment, her husband and his best friend will be getting out of prison soon for a museum heist that she planned and her already shadowy life is sliding slowly into something much darker. How did things go so wrong?
The universe would give you whatever you wanted if you twisted its arm hard enough.
Maybe because Grace wants so much. Actually, Grace covets. Covets things, covets money, covets people—starting with Riley’s family. And then, maybe some of the things that remind her of them. Or a painting that she would never be able to afford on her own. Or maybe she desires most of all to be someone other than who she is. Author Rebecca Scherm teases the reader by letting Grace divulge bits and pieces of her reality through the pages and yet, with each new piece of information much is still withheld.
Grace could never have more than one friend at a time. Any more and it became harder to keep track of how they knew her, what she had told them, which pieces went where.
The core of Unbecoming is the slipperiness of identity. At first it is as innocuous as being a teenager and not knowing who you are yet, so trying on new identities to see what fits. But as the novel progresses it becomes clear that while Grace may initially seem to have been a young girl who was a victim she soon learned how to best maneuver through the world. Scherm is as shifty as she is by parsing out the details of Grace’s life slowly to create maximum tension. There is a feel of The Talented Mr. Ripley in the psychology of the novel as it slides between deep and shallow- Grace believes she is unlovable so she acts that way. She says she is hard on herself but only to continue with actions she knows are not right. And her illegal and unethical acts are justified because she is only perpetrating them on bad people or people who don’t care.
In her very choice of title, Scherm plays with words as the novel plays with our minds. Is it simply Grace’s actions that are unbecoming or is she is constantly in the process of un-becoming?