This is the second to most recent Taylor Jenkins Reid novel and I think it completes my reading (well, listening) through all her books. This is the most ambitious of the books and has one of the most impactful moments I’ve found in her writing, to the point where I actually said “Holy shit!” and was pleased by how invested I felt with it. It also had a kind of crushing little ending note too.
The premise: Monique Grant has been contacted by her job at a prestigious arts magazine that Evelyn Hugo, Oscar winning long-time actor who is additionally infamous for her seven husbands wants to do an interview with her. At first this seems like a mistake to Monique, but it is confirmed that she’s not being assigned to the interview (being in a half-beginning/half-middling part of her early career) but being requested by Hugo and her staff. Monique has earned some recent recognition for writing a heartfelt and earnest deep dive into assisted suicide. This little bit of information sets off the prevailing mystery of the whole book — why has this important actor decided to give this person a shot? It’s clear throughout the early stages that she was picked very specifically and we would not find out for almost the whole book. In addition, we’re given a number of potential threads to follow to answer this question, but Reid is pretty effective of holding that mystery close to the chest. This part of the novel, that it acts as a mystery novel without a crime makes it among the most satisfying parts of the novel, especially given that many mysteries are not all that interesting if you focus on the crime itself.
From there we get a few different narrative threads and narrative formats. We get the frame story of Monique conducting the interview. We also get Evelyn Hugo’s own narration of her story. And we also get seeded throughout bits and pieces of paparazzi and gossip media detailing how Evelyn’s actions and story is viewed outside this perspective.
I won’t get into the actual details of the story because they’re satisfying when they land, but I did like this one a lot. It’s not perfect as there’s some false notes of 2017 cultural understanding being a little too anachronistically threaded here and there, and it can be a little preachy, but the story hits some good notes throughout. It’s also quite ambitious.
The Evidence of the Affair
This is a small audio short that begins as a letter from a spurned wife. Her husband is having an affair, and she is writing that woman’s husband to let him know about it and offer to send him copies of the letters she’s found. The story is about the back and forth of these two people as well as a few of the letters being referenced in their correspondence. I am glad this is a short story and not a novel as the letters go down a more or less predictable path until the end, but the writing is earnest and heartfelt. There’s also a satisfying conclusion. This is pretty much the plot of the beautiful movie In the Mood for Love, which is amazing, but also achingly sad. So having a little more levity is nice.