I didn’t expect to like this book. In fact, I started it as an audiobook and found it meandering and a little pretentious. I don’t love the idea of a novel about writers, especially when our narrator, Casey, describes how all of her once-writer friends have given up on the craft and taken real jobs instead. But I’d read enough great reviews, by people I trust, to give this another go, this time as an e-book. And once I’d gotten a few chapters in, this book started to gel. It wasn’t until I understood more about Casey’s mother and father that I started to like her as a character. At the beginning of the book it just sounds like she’s feeling sorry for herself, but there’s more there. Her life is genuinely difficult.
Then she meets two different guys, both writers but otherwise completely different, and from there I really began to enjoy this story, because it becomes about Casey figuring out how to grow up and figure out what she needs and wants. Both guys have different things to offer but it’s not obvious which she should choose, and King avoids most relationship cliches (though the adorable children of one guy might have been a bit much). I like a book with strong character development, and this one fits that bill.
While writing is important to Casey, King doesn’t let it take over the story as many writers might. Instead, Casey’s writing is sprinkled throughout the novel, in between her job as a waitress, her juggling of relationships with the two guys, her brother, and her friend, her grief over her mother, and a number of health issues.
I appreciated this book’s mix of plot-moving scenes and internal monologue. King seems to excel at describing awkward, difficult and humorous situations without making them excessive or trite. Like her description of some terrifying doctor’s visits, a confrontation with a customer at the restaurant Casey works at, and one of the most memorable job interviews I’ve read. In this book, King maintains a really nice balance of light and dark, tragic and humorous. She tips over in a few places (again, adorable children) but mostly this book was a pleasure to read and never felt tired or like I’d read it before.
King’s writing was really thoughtful and it was the kind of book where I highlighted a number of lines – something I don’t find myself doing all that often. Like this line, for example:
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.Lily King, Writers and Lovers
This is a nit-picky complaint, but I found the fact that it was set in the 90’s a bit distracting. I realize most authors are telling some story that comes from their own life, and so it makes sense to set the story in the time (I’m guessing here) when the author was that age. But there wasn’t a clear reason to set it in the 90s. The author wasn’t looking back on her life after 20 years, and the book had nothing to do with current events of the time. Maybe the story needed to be set in the 90’s so a novel could be printed on paper and packaged up rather than emailed. Maybe there’s another reason but it seems to me this story could easily have been set in the current time.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way Casey developed as a character and I liked King’s perceptive, clever writing. This was my first book by her, but I’ll be interested in reading others.