Oh man. This book. The quote on the front states that this book entertains us “with the cunning and verve of Gillian Flynn but with an intensity all its own.” – Megan Abbott, author of The Fever (which I will need to read to see if this person even has a right to be up in this place giving praise).
When I saw that Gillian Flynn was invoked I mentally prepared myself for a mind fuck. I hadn’t read Gone Girl before I saw the movie, and I have to be honest I have never been so mad at a movie that made me so confused and then came to no pleasant resolution. I walked out of that Cinebistro thinking that I wanted my money back because it was (1) terrible in a mindfuck kind of way and (2) there was no happy ending. And while I understand that not all stories have happy endings, I wanted that bitch to BURN.
Anyyyyways, so I prepared myself for some twisty turnys and maybe I wouldn’t be so mad this time. Fool me once and blah blah blah. Our main character TifAni (who goes by Ani now that’s she’s nabbed herself a rich guy to marry) is in the process of getting married and deciding whether she wants to participate in a documentary about some unknown event that happened at her private high school that her poor/lower-middle-class-pretending-to-be-upper-middle-class parents sent her to. The book proceeds to take us on a back and forth journey, moving us forward through time from her matriculation at Bradley High School to THE EVENT in the past and also from where we meet her towards her wedding day.
Even the book jacket claims that Ani has a secret, that there is something in her past that threatens to bubble up and ruin everything. What is the secret? When will we find out? As you move through some of the horrors of her experience you wonder, if it’s not this, then the secret must be pretty bad. I myself started thinking about the Gillian Flynn comparison and wondered if maybe all this was self-deprecating for advancement, that she experiences what she experiences to blackmail or coerce.
What we really get is a book-long therapy session. I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say that it wasn’t very suspenseful at all. Shocking maybe, but it was no Gone Girl. She’s shared her experiences with her new fiance and family, and her story had been all over the news prior to her adult life. In the end she realizes that her quest for money and a man with money was just a way for her to avoid being hurt, as being “poor” and an outsider at her private school had hurt her before. Her quest to be an insider would have been complete if she marries Luke, but to marry him would also mean that her life would be a constant reminder of everything she had worked so hard to escape.
When I was in college (undergrad) I was engaged to a very sweet computer engineer. We had a long distance relationship because when we met he was just finishing his master’s and I was just starting my bachelor’s, but we were together for 3 years, him working in Massachusetts and me working on my degree in Maine. He proposed at the end of our second year together, we planned the wedding, I bought a dress, we reserved a venue. And then I found a job and lived with him the summer before my senior year of college. And in just those 3 short months I realized that if I married this man, I would have to be a mother. We were not on equal ground financially, historically, emotionally, and with the distance we couldn’t have ever evened that ground. Despite the fact that I would have been financially stable for the first time in my life if I had married him, I realized that witnessing his emotional outbursts, his inability to set boundaries at work, his anxieties about what others thought of him, they would all put me into the role of caretaker and not wife and partner. And at the tender age of 21, I was not ready for that kind of relationship or responsibility.
I tell you this very shallow version of what was a very complicated and difficult stage of my life to say that I totally related to how this book ended. You can’t let an event determine the rest of your life. You have to know yourself and make decisions that will make you happy. You have to seek counseling when you experience trauma and find yourself again once you’ve been lost. A rich husband can’t make you feel safe and loved all the way inside. TifAni went through a journey in this book to realize that all her decisions were made simply to feel safe, to protect herself, when she WAS safe and didn’t need to put herself through more to artificially create safety. Sometimes you have to be brave and strike out on your own to discover who you are, or in TifAni’s case, who you’ve become. That kind of bravery does come with costs, but the benefits will far outweigh them. I am a completely different person today than I would have been if I had married that man, and while I am probably much worse off financially, I wouldn’t trade who I am now for that person.
The major disappointment is that there was no major twist. There were shocks and there were gruesome moments, but nothing that I couldn’t process. No other shoe dropped. What was her secret? There wasn’t really one. There were twists I didn’t see coming, as the book jacket advertised, but they weren’t such drastic twists that I got whiplash, they were just the next part of the story.
This was a good book, a good story, with a good ending. What made it less enjoyable to me was how it was presented on the outside, raising expectations that weren’t necessary for a book that would seem all too real to those of us that have had to raise ourselves up by our bootstraps only to want to strangle ourselves with them later.