Oh MAN this book. This bloody book. I knew what I was getting into with another Shriver tale but… she really pushed problematic discomfort to the extreme with this one.
The synoposis is this: Serenata is in her sixties and, after a lifetime of punishing physical exercise, her knees have failed her and she has not comes to grips with her new reality. Serenata is superior and insufferable in every way. She sees herself as a trend setter, but hates that everything she loves eventually gets loved by other people. You know those people who place all their self-worth in the fact that they ‘liked x band before they were popular’? That’s Serenata, but worse. Her adult children despise her and she cannot imagine why. Naturally, her career in voiceover work is thanks to her unique ‘specialeness’ and allows her to work largely in solutitde. She has few friends beyond a young neighbour who she can boss around.
Her one trusty companion is her husband, Remington. Remington and Serenata are a unit. They are the couple who host a dinner party only to spend all night verbally sparring with each other, feeling superior and drawing eyerolls from their guests. They make each other feel special, smart and successful, and believe they are misunderstood by the simpletons around them.
Until the day that Remington announces that he’s going to run a marathon.
Serenata is immediately and completely consumed by rage and jealousy at this annoucement. How could her husband choose to become fit at a time when she herself is handicapped? It feels like a personal affront to her when, in reality, Remington was recently fired and simply has nothing else to fill his days. But could Serenata support this, or even help Remington come to terms with his unexpected retirement? Absolutely not. She drives him away into the arms of an insufferable personal trainer, Bambi, and things go downhill from there.
Shriver is doing her best throughout this novel to lampoon ‘woke culture’ at every possible moment. For example: why are we told Remington is fired and forced into early retirement? Why, because his employer did a ‘diversity hire’ and then pushed him out when he challenged his new (younger, femaler, ethnic) boss. A great deal of pages are devoted to this backstory, but you only need to know the tinest bit about employment law to know that the scenario that Shriver has spun here is complete rubbish.
And why is Serenata’s work as a voiceover artist drying up? Why, because she’s being accused of racially insistive mimicry due to her realistic accent work. Does that sound familiar? For me, it brought to mind Shriver’s keynote address at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, where she railed against criticism of cultural appropriation levelled at her and other creatives.
Every character in this novel is reprehensible. They talk to each other in the most intensely rude manner and it was completely unrealistic from start to finish. Every aspect of modern-day fitness is run through a funhouse mirror and distorted beyond the palest imitation of reality.
I know that this is Shriver’s shtick but… oof. This was too much for me.
1 Secretly Named Bicycle out of 5.