Fractured by Catherine McKenzie
This is a suspenseful story that shifts both in point of view from Julie, a successful novelist, and her neighbor, John, and also in time—it goes back and forth from twelve months ago, eleven months ago, etc. to TODAY.
Julie Apple Prentice published a book that was wildly successful about friends who commit the perfect murder. The protagonist of the novel is a little too much like Julie herself, and there was in fact a suspicious death of a friend back in law school. At the time, there was speculation that the Katherine’s death wasn’t an accident. The results at the time were inconclusive and no charges were brought, but the publication of the book brings back the suspicions about whether her death was really an accident after all. It also brought out a stalker who managed to wreak havoc in Julie’s life, so she and her husband and their twins move across the country to start a new life.
The new neighborhood they move into is a different kind of nightmare. This community is wildly zealous about enforcing rules—led by a bored-stay-at-home Mom who keeps busy by sticking her nose into everyone else’s business.
As ever, McKenzie is a gifted writer and I was compelled to find out how her tale unfolded. Definitely an enjoyable page-turner.
Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for giving me an advance look at this book.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
This is a well-written book I would not recommend to anyone. For the first fifth of the book, I felt like I was reliving my days of waitressing back in college. She gets the minutia right, every excruciating detail, but reading it, I felt like I was actually working as a server except without the paycheck.
While I normally like imperfect protagonists, I found Tess particularly difficult to root for. Who goes to New York City with $146 in their bank account and no job lined up? Also, while I do know career servers that can pull in great salaries, it’s also difficult for me to picture a character who has absolutely no ambition—until she gets the job working in the back (it takes months backbreaking labor to work *up* to becoming a front-of-the-house server)—and her whole life revolves around learning about different wines, seasons, foods, and so on. That becomes her passion—to become a great server. OK, so at least she develops some goals, even if they’re not the usual I’ll-waitress-until-I-make-it-as-an actor/writer/singer/mom stories that most servers have (it’s a stepping stone, a paycheck while pursuing big, impossible dreams).
I do like nice restaurants that serve the kind of meals she’s talking about, so it’s enjoyable to envision a world eating and drinking wine at that caliber all the time. But it’s also difficult to care for a woman whose after-hours drinking and drugging she seems to only occasionally understand is out of control. Yes, she’s only 22 and her body can still take it, but combined with her need to be in a relationship with an obviously damaged, emotionally unavailable guy, I want her to at least have more self-awareness of getting herself out of this hole eventually.
I liked the originality of her storytelling, but didn’t love the book itself.
The Girls by Emma Cline
The writing in this book is beautiful. If you’re female, you’ll experience being a teenager again—even if you weren’t a teenager in California in the ’60s, the way Cline writes about being a teenage girl rings true, sometimes painfully so: “Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get.”
The book switches from Evie as a 14-year-old and as an adult, staying at a friend’s house. When her friend’s son Julian arrives, Julian is impressed that Evie was once part of a Manson-like cult, though only for a short time, and she wasn’t involved in the gruesome murders. (This isn’t a spoiler—you know this right away.)
What is compelling about this book is the writing. You know from the beginning of the book that Evie gets out of the cult, but not how or what effects exactly have lingered from that experience.
Evie is drawn to Suzanne more than to Russell. Russell is the sun around which teenage girls orbit, but it’s Suzanne who pulls Evie in. On Russell, Evie says, “I remember how strange it was to see Russell’s face change as he talked to the boy. His features mutable, turning antic and foolish, like a jester’s though his voice stayed calm. He could do that. Change himself to fit the person, like water taking the shape of whatever vessel it was poured into.”
People would later say that they couldn’t understand how or why anyone would get into such a horrible situation at the ranch. “But Suzanne had nothing else: She had given her life completely to Russell . . . Suzanne and the other girls had stopped being able to make certain judgments, the unused muscle of their ego growing slack and useless.”
Evie does not concern herself with the larger issues of the war in Viet Nam or Civil Rights. Like many 14-year-olds, she’s focused primarily on herself, and she’s coming to understand sex and drugs among a very damaged group of “friends.”
This is an original, intriguing book.