Published by Touchstone
Publication date: September 5th 2017
George and Lizzie of Nancy Pearl’s debut novel, George & Lizzie are one of those couples that can only be attributed to opposites attract. George is open, gregarious, and endlessly upbeat. Lizzie is quiet, self-absorbed, and largely aimless in what she wants to do with her life. George comes from loving parents and a nurturing environment while Lizzie has grown up as the only child of parents who are behavioral psychologists and only show love for each other and their work. Not surprisingly, this leaves Lizzie alone and on the outside. When the novel opens, she has tired of what she sees as the good girl façade she’s always worn for her parents.
She wanted them to be curious about her, to want to know what went on below her polished surface.
Out of this desire comes her decision, in her senior year of high school, to have sex with all the starters on the football team. She calls it the Great Game and despite finding it tedious and unpleasant after the first couple of encounters, she continues it until the final touchdown (as it were). She goes on to college, meets Jack, dates him for a semester and though he doesn’t come back in the fall, decides he’s her one true love—even after agreeing to marry George. The crux of the novel is her inability to let go of or reconcile her past—not to mention keeping it all a secret from George.
It may have been awhile since I was a teenager, but I remember enough to know that acting out against parents is a rite of passage. Where Lizzie’s actions rub the wrong way, is that what began as a lark and a way to make her parents notice her, very quickly became a burden. It’s not a case of exploring her sexuality, because she didn’t enjoy any of it and she didn’t tell her parents until later, which was supposedly her goal. So, why continue with something she really doesn’t want to do?
College doesn’t prove to be much better due to the soon-to-disappear Jack. When George enters her life she goes against her instincts and agrees to marry him. Almost a decade later, just as with her parents, she doesn’t think he has any idea of who she truly is…and she’s still in love with Jack. At this point, for me, Lizzie feels like Scarlett O’Hara, pining away for the foppish dreamer, Ashley Wilkes, when Rhett Butler worships her exactly as she is and gives her everything.
Even when I factor in important elements like cold, neglectful parents, disastrous teenage actions, lost first love, I can’t come up with enough psychological rationale to understand Lizzie. That she is unlikable—even George tells her she “had the emotional age of a three-year-old” and
You’re probably the most self-centered person I’ve ever met.
—doesn’t matter at all to me. I enjoy unlikable. What I can’t ignore is that she doesn’t add up. I have notes scattered through George & Lizzie with ‘I do not understand this at all’. Her past makes her feel bad, but it’s an identity she refuses to release, even when she has a husband who loves her deeply. She seems to revel in her self-imposed victimhood.
Not liking this book is difficult because Nancy Pearl is an icon in the library world. She also lives in Seattle and I’ve met and spoken with her at numerous events. I have tremendous respect for her and for her accomplishment in getting a novel published, but my issues with Lizzie colored my perceptions of the book as a whole. There are other wonderful characters, but they are overshadowed by Lizzie. After reading the book I saw Pearl at a discussion about George & Lizzie and her comments about the way she wrote the character provided some insight. It simply didn’t translate to the page.