First off let me say that everything this book asserts about rowers is true. We’re a weird little bunch of obsessives who think our terrible hobby, which we hate, is the best thing on earth. I even heard about it from another rower: my mom, because rowers getting together can only talk about rowing. When some tiny piece of our insular world breaks out into the wider one, it spreads like an old fashioned “send this to ten friends or die” chain email. I felt seen yet targeted on every page of this book, it was fantastic.
The book itself is also excellent. Bonnie’s voice is as no nonsense as Elizabeth Zott’s. I listened to it on audiobook, and the narrator did a fantastic job of voicing Elizabeth with this urgency that makes you feel as overwhelmed and compelled to do what she commands as does everyone who makes it into her whirlwind orbit. The details of how she lives her life ordered by scientific rigor, from the strict count of cherry tomatoes in her daughter’s lunch to the precision with which she makes coffee, have a magical realism element to them that wouldn’t feel out of place in Bradbury.
She doesn’t raise her daughter without a village, and the villagers in question are every bit as delightful as the main character. From her nosy neighbor who becomes Elizabeth’s closest confidant (who may or may not be actively plotting to kill her PoS husband) to the hapless producer of Elizabeth’s cooking show, helpless against the tidal wave of her personality, the cast is diverse and fun throughout the story. Even [some] irredeemable characters early on who help in Elizabeth’s abuse and bad luck are fun by story’s end.
By far the best side character is Six-Thirty, Elizabeth’s mutt dog companion, whose lovely animal intelligence we get glimpses of through passages from his perspective. It provides a lens for seeing human behavior through a critical eye, highlighting absurdity and adding comic breaks through the story’s bleaker parts.
And bleaker parts there are, being the story of a young single mother trying to stand up against headwinds of horrible luck and worse sexism. Struggle through the bleak parts though, bend your oar and lean hard into the aforementioned headwind, like so many winning rowers know you have to do. The gold medal at the end of the story is worth it.