Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 9th 2017
After almost five years of writing about books I kind of thought I’d seen it all. Not literally or in every way, but I firmly believed that plot and prose were inextricably intertwined. The best prose couldn’t save a bad plot and vice versa. Today I have to back off that belief because I just read a book that I really liked, but with writing that made me a little nutty. It’s Fake Plastic Love, the debut novel from Kimberley Tait. Ostensibly, it’s about four new adult, millennial friends taking Manhattan by storm. The narrator, M, and two friends, Belle and Chase have all graduated from Dartmouth. M and Chase meet Jeremy at the investment bank where they are fortunate enough to secure highly coveted jobs in the financial dog days of 2009. Belle writes a charming lifestyle blog about all the fabulous and romantic things you can do in NYC when money is no object and you don’t have a day job. Underneath the ostensible is enough snarky satire to make this compulsive reading.
So, what’s the problem? Well, Tait has a prodigious vocabulary and the ability to use it well, but the overabundance of descriptors is going to work against her for a lot of readers. So much space is used in describing, well…everything down to the smallest emotion and the color of the carpet. If it were either physical descriptions or emotional it might not have been so noticeable but both made it feel relentless.
Thankfully, Tait compensates for her exuberant use of adjectives by deploying the plot and characters of Fake Plastic Love with admirable restraint and to great effect. It’s worth noting that she wrote her Honors thesis on F. Scott Fitzgerald because the novel is a very modern deconstruction of The Great Gatsby with the romantic Jeremy wooing the fey, destructive Belle. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it is clever and delightfully subtle—until it’s not, which is fun.
Beyond the literary nod to Fitzgerald the best part of Fake Plastic Love is how Tait eviscerates so many contemporary institutions. She does it with such incisive aplomb that I was struck, more than once, with the feeling that there is fact in this fiction. Which is likely, because, before this debut, she worked in investment banks. Her description of the brutality of cold call training gave me a stomach ache—the attrition by humiliation sessions which only a select few survive. Life at the entry level of investment banking is only one area sliced and diced by Tait with her cutting humor. For anyone who’s ever wondered if lifestyle bloggers are real, Belle, with her fatuous blog on all things twee, will inspire simultaneous eye-rolls and grins.
All of this leaves me the most conflicted I have been about a book in a long time. The farther away I get from the writing the more I love the story. I’m still thinking about it! Tait is witty and intelligent and it shows, but this novel needed editing. If you are a fan of understated, spare prose then this is not the book for you. But if you’re willing to cut a girl some slack than the creativity and degree of originality in Fake Plastic Love is worth your time. No matter what, I’m very interested to see what Tait does next. She certainly knows how to tell a story.