Lily King is a magician. She takes an unassuming title like Writers and Lovers and crafts something beautiful, messy, and utterly captivating. Her last novel, 2014’s Euphoria, was my favorite read of the last decade- I have to admit that I was initially disappointed when Writers and Lovers was announced after the evocative fever of Euphoria.
A 30-something woman navigates creative struggle, debt, grief, and relationships? All I have to do is shout out of my front door and a line of people that fit the description will line up to regale me with their sob stories. I pre-ordered it months ago, and when it arrived I didn’t even open the package until three days ago.
BUT- I really loved this.
King’s writing is so clear; she transports you instantly into the body and surroundings of her characters. Now, you are Casey. You are working a demoralizing job while living in a hovel, dealing with unaddressed grief, struggling to come up for air under mountains of student debt, feeling your body fall apart, and bouncing from one half-thought-out affair to the next. You have been staring at your unfinished novel for six years. You have watched your peers move on from the dream or move up towards the next rung of success.
Have I been there? At times, though not exactly. We all have, in one way or another. We’ve all hit the wall of “It’s strange, to not be the youngest kind of adult anymore”.
As with most fiction, I do not want to spill too much information. King slowly teases out Casey’s life in thoughtful and crushing bites, and I want others to taste them on their own.
Speaking of taste, Casey’s work as a waitress in a restaurant in an old Harvard club is soul-crushing in all of the right ways. If you have ever worked in the service industry, you will find yourself riled up at the arbitrary injustices of that world.
At Iris, a woman takes a bite of her BLT and sends it back She says she doesn’t like the spicy mayonnaise. The kitchen makes another, with a milder aioli. I bring it out to her, and a few minutes later she asks me to bring some of the spicy mayonnaise back.
‘I thought I didn’t like it, but I did,’ she says.
King has a knack for getting to the bones of both the deeply disappointing and the truly electrifying bits within relationships; especially those that are freshly blooming or slowly withering away.
I’m done with the seesaw, the hot and cold, the guys who don’t know or can’t tell you what they want. I’m done with kissing that melts your bones followed by ten days of silence followed by a fucking pat on the arm at the T stop.
Set mostly in Cambridge, the entire feel of this novel is rooted squarely in the repressed New England mood, and as a life-long New Englander I felt the familiarity of both the landmarks (especially drinking coffee in the beloved and years ago shuttered Cafe Algiers and wandering through middle-of-nowhere Rhode Island) and the chilly mood.
As easy as it was to initially roll my eyes at writers writing about writing (movies about making movies! TV about making TV!), I could not easily shake the familiar sensations of Writers & Lovers, nor could I turn my attention away from Casey even while not actively reading about her life.