CW: drunk driving
What is this book not? I think it might be more helpful to frame what I did like that way.
It’s not #ownvoices, a few times over–Reid (Jenkins Reid?) is a white, straight author (who, by her own admission, is not always very feminine presenting) writing about biracial, queer characters. I didn’t check midway through, but there were parts–I’m thinking of a passage where Monique was discussing her to her biracial identity, very near the start of the story, that rung a bit…odd, just as someone who’s bicultural. But then again, bicultural ol’ me found Evelyn’s successful assimilation and then sadness with said success very realistic.
In an interview with bi.org, Reid talks about wanting to use the platform she has (a multi-book deal, an audience) to elevate queer stories, and the research that went into accurately depicting the Golden Era of Hollywood and all the associated muck that was swept under the rug.
I don’t believe that authors should only write about their experiences. But I also feel a bit weird (one might say…queer?) knowing that I was taken through the wringer by an author who isn’t part of the selfsame community that is being highlighted. All to say, there’s a way to properly write about identities that aren’t your own, and unless someone has a rationale for why I’m wrong I think Reid has done it.
Another issue shall remain within spoiler tags: [this isn’t a HEA, it’s actually a pretty solid bury your gays. Every straight up (heh) gay or lesbian character in this book meets a tragic end–COPD, inexplicably dropping dead, car crash. I understand that we’re getting at Evelyn’s story and her desperate attempts and protecting her small family and the carnage she inflicts along the way, but it is somehow desperately sad for Celia to end up with just a few years of bliss because she couldn’t keep herself away from Evelyn, who is objectively terrible for her.]
Another quick spoiler issue: [ugh something terrible about white passing Evelyn framing Monique’s Black father for drunk driving for so many years, and then burdening Monique with that knowledge in some twisted sense of absolution.]
So back to the main gist: I definitely thought this book was going to be a Big Read. It’s not at all–it goes down very easily. Someone told me it was an epistolary book, and I clearly misheard because it’s not at all. It’s told in interwoven flashbacks that aren’t hard to follow, and the plot flow remains linear and easy to track. I’ve never seen the full movie but I felt like the overall framing device was a lot like Julie & Julia, namely the bits with Julia Child are so much more engaging than the bits with Amy Adams, luminous actress though she is.
Side bar, are all pale redhead actresses great?
All in all, this book clearly hits a lot of bingo squares at the moment, so it’s hard to say how meaningful it might be for you. I sense that it’s a lot cheesier than I am able to discern at the moment. For what it’s worth, Reid does what she set out to do–create this decades spanning epic love story between two women who couldn’t be together but couldn’t stay apart and therefore couldn’t help but hurt one another, over and over, in their pursuit of what they thought would make them happy. It’s about heartbreak and divorce, and how those two things aren’t at all correlated. It’s about family, found or otherwise, and the lengths we’ll go to protect them. It’s about the lies we tell ourselves to maintain the lives we have.