Writers & Lovers by Lily King
Published by Grove Press
Publication date: March 3, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
Everyone knows the writer’s life is not an easy one. For 31-year-old Casey it feels almost impossible. Her mother died suddenly, her boyfriend is gone, she’s working two jobs, and she lives in a space that used to be a potting shed. She wants to write a novel, but after six years has made little progress. Her friends from college and grad school, many of whom wanted to be writers, have all dropped the fantasy for more stable lives. In Lily King’s Writers & Lovers Casey is the only one who still clings to the desire for a writer’s life even as the real world encroaches.
Casey’s main job is as a waitress in an upscale Boston restaurant and this is where most of the novel is focused. It’s reminiscent of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter and, in the same way, King does a marvelous job capturing the frenetic, testosterone-fueled culinary life. It provides the grounding Writers & Lovers needs, with characters and realities that are recognizable. It also illustrates just how far off the traditional path Casey has strayed, compared to her friends. Most notable is the fact that she defaulted on her student loans to go with a boyfriend to Spain. What was substantial is now inconceivable.
It was hard for me to find sympathy for Casey’s situation. Someone who blithely follows a boyfriend to Europe, knowing she has student loans to pay? It makes her current dilemma feel more self-inflicted than inevitable. Later in the novel, she needs to see a doctor, yet has no idea her employer provides healthcare. She’s over 30 and doesn’t even ask if health insurance is available? Maybe they’re niggling points, but both made Casey feel willfully ignorant and detracted from the many aspects of her story that felt more important.
Thankfully, these elements do not subsume either the novel or Casey. They annoyed me, but as King settled into the other facets of Casey’s life, I came to appreciate this tender story of a late-bloomer who isn’t willing to let go of her dreams. I loved King’s writing in her last novel, Euphoria, and she writes with the same care and nuance in Writers & Lovers. This is a quiet novel that will appeal to anyone who’s taken the long way around in life or who wants to revisit the feelings evoked by trying to figure out what being a grown-up means (let me know if you have the answer).
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