I mean, I frequently want novels I like to last longer, but in particular I wanted this novel to last longer at the outset, when I wasn’t even super invested in the various characters! The payoff would have been…immense.
As it were, there are very, very strong The Secret History vibes in this book except that the twist/answer is not given away at the start but revealed, slowly, over time. There’s been a murder, this much we know for certain. Oliver served time for the crime, but it’s entirely unclear (and highly probable) that he didn’t really do it. And in order to figure out who did, we have to travel back in time to that mythical land known as “an expensive arts college that has a drama program that starts with many students and dwindles down to 7 by senior year and they all do only Shakespeare,” aka “here is a college with the biggest most massive endowment you’ve ever seen.”
Let’s also get it out of the way at the outset: I’m 100% on board with the trope of “overly invested [Greek/drama/prep school/insert educational subset here] students go overboard and there is DRAMA,” because it is everything to me. The idea of these close knit, vaguely incestuous classmates who have been through it all: harrowing trenches (of Shakespeare), glorious highs (of Shakespeare), riotous laugher (of Shakespeare). The assignment of parts for the annual(!) gonzo(!!) Halloween production(!!!) of Macbeth is as much a shocker as the usual who-slept-with-whom questions the preoccupy normal fictional characters. I would have happily spent forever in that land.
And therein lies the issue–I felt like we sped through their comradery such that the antagonism of Richard (the magnetic, the lion, the one who commands the stage without question) fell pretty flat. Rather than feel the slow fracturing of the group, the fear of Richard and his physicality (all 6’4″ of him), the loss of the family unit we were rushed into all of it. Richard and Meredith? They weren’t an Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton, it’s actually a difficult relationship and there’s secrets underneath and we’re learning all of this in one quick scene that makes you reevaluate everything you’ve seen before, and not in a good way.
But–I loved pretty much every minute, and was able to execute some mental gymnastics to expand on the length of time it took for our merry band of bards to fall to pieces. It all makes for a well crafted story and strong ending! [which I will say is not the usual bury your gays trope since the implication is meant to be that James is alive, right? right?].