Bless me, cannonballers, for I have sinned – it’s been months since my last review. But now that it’s January, I find myself back on my bullshit here, attempting a cannonball for the 4th time. After a few half-starts on New Year’s Day, I just devoured Lily King’s Writers & Lovers.
Casey Peabody is a writer barely making ends meet by waiting tables in 1997 Cambridge, Mass. I struggle to sum up the book’s action. It was one of the reasons why it took me so long to read this – the synopses and dust cover blurbs couldn’t do it justice. Sure, there are two lovers that our heroine must choose between. Sure, she struggles with the insecurity and agony of being a young (female) writer. But this book is so much more than the sum of those elements. I feel like a hack even trying to describe the feelings it conjured in me. King does a remarkable job of bringing the reader into the insular worlds Casey dwells in – both the literary scene and the restaurant realm. King has so much compassion for her characters, especially Casey, and I only wish I had her insights when I was younger:
Oscar is studying me. He’s making decisions already. I can feel this. Between our call and today he talked himself out of me, and now he is coming back around. I squat there and think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel.
I appreciate the gentleness and understanding King treats her protagonist with. I recognized so many parts of myself in Casey’s messy haplessness. But she never romanticizes Casey’s suffering the way a lesser writer might have. You never feel like all is irretrievably lost. You never root for Casey to fall to beautiful pieces. This quiet current of confidence carries you through to the end.
I recommend this to avid readers – even those who have a distaste for writers writing about writing.