This book came highly recommended, but it failed to ignite my interest. I had been looking forward to it for some time: a big-shot political family with black-sheep children who literally catch on fire when upset? Sounds fun! Except…that’s not the story. It’s the story of a fuck-up (her words) obsessed with another fuck-up of great wealth and privilege. It’s an ugly story about ugly people with some children (who do happen to catch fire when upset) caught in the middle. Listening to this book was a chore, made tolerable only by a fantastic performance from Marin Ireland.
“If you were rich, and you were a dude, it really felt like if you just followed a certain number of steps, you could do pretty much whatever you wanted.”
…you know, like write a book about female friendship that is mired down with the male gaze. Yuck. I can’t speak directly to Wilson’s economic status, but I’m going to guess that he’s doing okay- several published books, one adapted into a film, he’s probably doing alright. Where he came from, I don’t know, but his ideas about women- especially teen girls in boarding school- is the stuff of “Dear Penthouse” nonsense. Our narrator, Lillian, cannot comment on anything but how beautiful her roommate is. Oh wait, she’s beautiful, tall, attractive, beautiful, powerful, and yes- weird. SO weird. What is that weirdness? I have no idea- we only get Wilson- I mean Lillian’s description that her “weirdness” is what makes them one and the same. Her beautiful, tall, weirdness. The sort of beautiful, tall, weirdness that makes you want to sleep in her bed. ALL female roommates and friends talk non-stop about how beautiful the other is, and all of them always sleep in the same bed together at 14 within days of meeting!
Something *big* happens between the two girls, of course, and after years apart Madison – full of height and beauty – swoops back into Lillian’s life to save her from her poor, plain world. Madison has step-kids that catch on fire, and Lillian lives in her mom’s attic. Wealth to the rescue! The fire-children are non-characters. Really, everyone is a non-character. They are either “beautiful” or “weird”. Wait, sometimes they are also “wicked”. A sliver of an idea turned into a novel full of pull-quotes destined to decorate the instagram accounts with gems like these:
“A lot of times when I think I’m being self-sufficient, I’m really just learning to live without the things that I need.”
“Because I kept fucking up, because it seemed so hard to not fuck up, I lived a life where I had less than what I desired. So instead of wanting more, sometimes I just made myself want even less. Sometimes I made myself believe that I wanted nothing.”
“From that point on, I guess I sort of realized that my imagination, which made life tolerable, needed to be kept a secret from the rest of the world. But if you keep something hidden away, all tied up, it’s hard to summon it when you really need it.”
“And I knew a secret to caring for someone, had learned it just this moment. You took care of people by not letting them know how badly you wanted your life to be different.”
…full of #truth but lacking in meaning, motivation, and worth. This novel is just as- if not more- shallow than the people that it claims to skewer.