Full disclosure: I read this book in May and am only now getting around to writing about it. I have been procrastinating, because I did not much like it.
The problem with a series written by an already popular author under a pseudonym is you expect something amazing. If you bothered to take the time to write this, and get it published under a different name even though people will readily purchase anything that has your already known name on it, then it should be fucking amazing. Or maybe a total disaster that your publishers forced you to write, at gunpoint, barely legible, because the sweat was rolling into your eyes as you typed on the keyboard, and the fear froze your mind so you barely knew what was pouring forth from your fingers.
This book is neither. It’s a mediocre story, with a lot of unrealized potential – the largest affront an established author could put forth into the world.
Amanda Quick, for those who don’t know, is Jayne Ann Krentz. And The Girl Who Knew Too Much is the first of the “Burning Cove” series, a fictional town near Hollywood that offers escape to those burdened stars who never get any privacy and have to cry into their 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton covered pillows, wiping the snot away with their millions of dollars. This book was supposed to be glamorous and fun and interesting – instead, it was boring and predictable. I knew who the murderer was almost immediately. And I’m a reader who is somehow surprised, every time, when I read an Agatha Christie novel (unless I’ve read it before, because… I’m not brain-dead. Just bad at solving mysteries).
The author knows how to put together her nouns and verbs to form sentences appropriately – it’s just that those sentences aren’t worth reading.
I’m sure it’s a shocker, but I am not recommending this book to anyone. If you must read it, I recommend seeing if you can get it cheap on your e-reader (not from Amazon, though, ’cause, like, the tech giant sucks) or from the library.
The Winters claims to have been “inspired” by Daphne du Maurier’s haunting, lovely Rebecca, but at first, my impression was that it’s pretty much a modern re-telling. And initially, my instinct from reading this novel was that it was a pretty good read that pales in comparison to du Maurier’s gothic novel. And then, I re-read Rebecca. And realized maybe the book is not as lovely as I had thought. And maybe I hadn’t been reading the novel critically enough to understand what was going on.
To provide some context, I read Rebecca for the first time in high school. I was a very dramatic teenager, with a love for reading, and Rebecca was an instant favorite. As an adult, however, although I still have a penchant for drama, I also realize in a way I did not when younger, how unreliable and ridiculous the unnamed narrator is.
In the start, she seems fine. She jumps into being “in love” with Maxim de Winter and agreeing to spend the rest of her life with him awfully fast. But, she’s also living a drab life, with her job consisting of working for a woman she doesn’t much like, and Maxim de Winter, as an older man who seems to enjoy her for her legitimate company, offers a safe respite from this life by offering security due to his money. She says that she’s in love with him, and she probably really thinks that she is. I was immediately skeptical, however, (on this re-read, not when I was a high-school aged idiot), given that she’s very young, and he’s much older.
Yet as the book progresses, it is clear to the reader that she doesn’t really care to be around him. She likes her alone time. She doesn’t really want to socialize – claims she’s worried she’s going to mess something up, but really, she’s a young woman who doesn’t want to hang out with Maxim’s older friends making boring conversation. Totally fair. Oh, and she doesn’t really mind if her husband’s around, either. Although she’s young and they just got married. …yep, sounds like a young person who’s truly smitten to me.
It is difficult to tell, as the book progresses, if you can believe anything she says. She sounds reasonable and logical, until she doesn’t. She’s so timid around Mrs. Danvers, for instance, that you can understand why the older woman can’t help but long for her previous female employer. Not because Rebecca was beautiful and charming, because she was decisive. Rebecca could make a fucking decision. Mrs. Danvers asks this narrator what her preference is, and she’s so worried about making the wrong decision that she does, every time, by saying – “Oh, whatever you prefer.” Or “Whatever Rebecca would have done.” And attempting to ameliorate her waffle-ness by adding “I’m not picky.” It’s literally your job to keep the house, now. And you have money now. Either start reading books to learn the etiquette, or decide you don’t give a fuck, and you do you, bitch. Be like: “I’m tired of pickles” and don’t order them for 3 weeks. Drink red wine with fish. The way to make a wrong decision is to care too much about what others think of your choices.
So our potentially agoraphobic narrator with hermitic tendencies is married to a rich, older guy she tries to convince herself she loves, and abstaining from housekeeping, supposedly because she’s terrified of the housekeeper, but really because she’s paralyzed by the idea of making the wrong choice. And she has convinced herself that she is correct in being terrified of the housekeeper, although the latter seems to be acting in a totally reasonable matter. I don’t buy that Danvers is a bitch, actually. I kind of like her. More than the narrator, if we’re being honest.
This is starkly in contrast to my read of the book when younger. When younger, I took everything the narrator said at face value. Now, I’m 100% convinced this younger reading was incorrect.
So, initially, The Winters was a 4-star read for me, because “Mm, it’s okay. But Rebecca is better. Just re-read Rebecca.” [Editor’s Note1: This is not a direct quote.]
[Editor’s Note 2: Yes, I edit my blog myself.]
[Editor’s Note 3: So I am, in fact, the editor. Leaving editor’s notes on my own writing.]
And then I re-read Rebecca. And I realized that Lisa Gabriele’s The Winters bears many similarities to Rebecca. Was obviously written with the same-ish characters in mind. But it deviates in important ways to tell a story that shows, at the least, a critical reading of Rebecca that is worth considering.
I still think it’s a 4-star read for me, because although I really enjoy its’ analysis of its’ famous inspiration, I do not want to own it. The writing is fine, if a bit simple. Worth a read, but maybe get if from the library, if interested.
Have you read The Winters? What did you think? Do you want me to leave editor’s notes on your blog? I’m good at them, and can make up content as needed. I’m fairly good at it – not, like, John Hodgman good, but we can’t all be John Hodgman, so… you know… what was I saying? [Editor’s Note: It is not recommended to lose your train of thought mid-sentence. Consider re-wording.]
In case you don’t follow bookselling news (in which case, consider subscribing to Shelf Awareness, a publishing newsletter that has brief updates that are interesting and informative), the ever-increasing monster monopoly Amazon gives 0 fucks about the publishing industry or independent booksellers.
Claiming it was due to a “technical error” on which the Company was vague and which is about as convincing as the dog eating your homework, Amazon sent an unknown (presumably because Amazon chose not to disclose, since, as a tech company, it presumably has the information) amount of customers the much-anticipated Margaret Atwood book The Testaments early.
I know, it seems kind of cool that you can potentially receive a book you have been fervently awaiting earlier than the official publishing date, but the thing is, publishing houses require brick and mortar stores to sign an affidavit saying the store will not sell until the official publishing date, and penalty for breaking is severe. It is unclear whether Amazon had to sign such an affidavit (although, would anyone be surprised that the tech giant decided to throw it’s weight around and refuse?), but if so, it has broken the embargo, which is unacceptable. And if not, it’s being a big ol’ dick, which is also unacceptable.
Publishing houses of the world, I propose a simple and elegant solution to this conundrum: Stop selling your books on Amazon. Just don’t give Amazon access to your hardcover, paperback, mass market, or e-retail.
Since this will never happen, however, because America is nothing if not a country unwilling to hold anyone accountable for their actions if that organization is headed by a white man, let me conclude with this:
Amazon, you suck.
(FYI, while I was previously including Amazon affiliate links in some of my blog posts, I will no longer be doing so, and will also try to remove my foot from my mouth by removing those older links within the next couple of days.)
P.S. Here are links to the Shelf Awareness articles, which are both longer and more eloquent about Amazon’s initial dirty deed, as well as it’s half-assed apology.
If you have, I’m sorry. If you haven’t – don’t bother. & if you have a problem with spoilers, stop reading. Because I’m going to be giving away plot details left & right, so, you know – fair warning.
The narrator in this particular novel feels like she’s suffering the dystopian equivalent of white privilege. I mean, yeah, she was kidnapped. Which, don’t get me wrong, is awful. But in the context of dystopia – also, could have been worse. In fact, even in the context of this dystopia, it could have been much worse. If she wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous (which she obviously is, because everyone else comments on it, but she’s got that annoying – “I’m not vain, I don’t look in mirrors” bullshit going on – bitch, babies like admiring themselves in mirrors; it’s human nature, just be straight with me, and admit that you look amazing), she probably would have been shot in the head shortly after being ripped out of her home (if she had been ripped out of her home, because it sounds like the girl-hunters went out of their way a bit for her, which you have to assume they may not have done if she had been less attractive. Or maybe they would have, because it’s dystopia, so why the fuck not?). If she hadn’t been kidnapped, she may have been forced to resort to prostitution – her parents are dead, and it’s unclear how she and her brother are surviving, but even though money does, kind of, grow on trees, because money is made out of paper that comes from trees, you can’t pick it off like an apple or a peach. So she’s been kidnapped, which sucks. And she’s effectively been sold as a bride to this guy. But the guy’s not a total asshole, which he could be. And he doesn’t force himself on her, which he could do. He basically clothes her very well, feeds her very well, and lets her live in his nice house which has a pool and his own orange grove. In other words, this bitch is living in more comfort and luxury than, like, 95% of us, and probably than, like, 120% of the people reading this blog. And she’s complaining that she doesn’t have her freedom – which, like, yeah, except that if you weren’t in the situation you’re in, again, you would probably be resorting to gross, dirty things like prostitution. You would probably be eating less food of a lower quality. You would not be wearing your luxury, designer clothes. And you would still be unhappy, if you even lived very long. So, like, shut the fuck up Rhine.
She also makes these grandiose claims like – “I’d rather die!” when she’s constantly trying to physically escape, so… obviously, she wouldn’t. Because if you would truly rather die than live in the lap of luxury where, again, you’re not raped, you don’t have to work, and the people generally don’t seem that bad, then you would have done it. There are primary source documents regarding the gladiators in the Roman empire – and you know that it sucked, because these gladiators would do crazy things to try to get away. And when they couldn’t get away, do you know what they did, Rhine? Let me tell you, it wasn’t fret while collapsing on a tizzy couch about how terrible their life was. There’s a source document about a gladiator who killed himself in the Roman-empire equivalent of a restroom by shoving the sponge they used because this was before toilet paper down his throat. Are you willing to shove an implement covered in shit down your throat so that you choke yourself and die to escape where you’re at, Rhine? I don’t think so. So, like, shut the fuck up.
Also, there’s the fact that she’s not supposed to live very long, anyway. Which I also have little sympathy for. Humans like beautiful, young people. If you die at 20, you die while you’re young and pretty. You’re still going to outlive your dog, your cat, and several fish. It’s not great, but is it better to live until you’re 100? Given that you know what your lifespan is, you need to take that into account, and make sure that you live as much as you can. Like, what are you losing? The chance to sit at a desk for the majority of your 20s – 60s, desperately striving to attain a work-life “balance” that doesn’t exist? Stop bitching, and start living. It sounds like you pretty much live in Disney World – enjoy it. Eat all the cake your stomach can handle, go swimming, sit in the orange grove, read all of the books you can get your hands on. Play pranks on your sister wives. Or you can be miserable and strive and struggle over relatively insignificant problems, because you’ve got 4 years left, and who wants to make the most of it? Not you, Rhine. Not you.
I had this kind of awful co-worker once. To be Frank, it was a shitty job with a shady employer, and no one worked there longer than they had to. Still, she managed to make the job at least slightly worse, including, I’m fairly certain, stealing my new winter hat. It was a warm, furry aviator, mid-Michigan winter – the action should have been illegal. And for some reason, it was this co-worker who shaped my expectations for Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel Middlesex.
She raved about it. She had an English degree from some college on the East Coast, and so I tended to take notice of the books she raved about. And she told me Middlesex is this amazing book that really analyzes marriage. So I was a bit surprised, to say the least, to read the book’s opening line:
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
Middlesex is a good book. And it does include marriage. And analysis of family, immigration, the assembly line, race politics, all included in the accurate setting of East Detroit. But Middlesex is primarily the narration of Cal, who is a hermaphrodite. And honestly, the book felt the most alive and interesting to me when Cal was not only narrating, but present. (Much of the book is a saga of Cal’s lineage, beginning with grandparents, since her/his family history and genetics are what ultimately lead to her/his unusual physicality.)
I preferred The Virgin Suicides to Middlesex; however, I may have just been in the mood to read TVS and not 100% in the mood to read Middlesex when I was reading these books. And both books display Eugenides’ writing skill, thorough knowledge of the Metro-Detroit area (I personally love that he always mentions the fish flies, aka, scourge of my existence growing up), and are great reads. As I was reading Middlesex, there were various phrases/paragraphs/etc. that stood out to me, and I wanted to retain/share them here to wrap up this post.
We all have at least one book that we turn to, when we’re having a really bad time. The one that always makes the crinkles around our eyes show up in a genuine smile, that despite being infinitely familiar, is still a genuine pleasure to read no matter how many times we re-read it. For me, when I am in a reading slump, or having a personal bad time, there are two authors I turn to, again and again: Jane Austen and Sarah Dessen.
These authors are very different, but I think that draws me to them, again and again, are the realistic portrait each author wrote of her world and time period, as well as the sparks of wit and humanity that illuminate their books. Austen is a bit more cheeky, Dessen is a bit more romantic, but both authors remind me of the good that makes life worthwhile. Of course, Mrs. Dessen has an advantage over Austen, which is that she is still living, and her novels are still being written and published. Austen’s novels will forever be capped at 6 (7, if you include Lady Susan), whereas Dessen’s oeuvre is currently at 14, and, I believe, will likely continue.
Readers who are not Dessen fangirls or YA reading fiends may not be aware that on June 4, 2019, her latest novel The Rest of the Story was released. Of course, I added it to my TBR list as soon as I became aware of it, and looked up her book tour, which surprisingly included Ann Arbor (now that Borders is gone, the tours almost never include Ann Arbor).
It was fate, right?
I was obviously fated to see the author, to get my copy of her latest novel signed.
I pre-ordered her novel on Amazon (which is kind of evil, I know, but I had a gift card, and am not rich, so this was a cost-effective way for me to obtain the novel while still allowing my family to, you know, eat).
Is there any feeling quite as nice as seeing a package on your doorstep that you know contains a book?
Possibly opening that package, smelling the paper and possibility of a new novel. And then reading it, if the novel lives up to its’ possibility. Which, in my opinion, The Rest of the Story did.
I arranged to leave work early, and to pick my very imaginative older son up so that he could hear from someone who makes a living doing creative work. And I allowed myself to get excited.
And then, day of, it was a particularly horrible day at work, and I got caught up just a few extra minutes. There was more traffic than usual on the freeway, including some catastrophe that caused the Ann Arbor-Saline exit to close entirely and severely slowed down I-94, in general. What would ordinarily be minor inconveniences aggregated to the degree that by the time I picked my son up, drove to the library, and snuck into one of the very few spaces still left in the underground parking lot adjacent to that building, it was shortly after 7, when the event was supposed to start.
I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but pressed on, to discover, much to my disappointment (but not surprise) that the room in which the author was speaking was full (according to arbitrary fire-code regulation).
It was the cherry on top of a particularly bad time period.
And then, I realized that my family’s vacation in the last week of June to Virginia would put us fairly close to North Carolina… and Dessen was going to be speaking at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on the 26th.
I did not allow myself to get excited. I allowed myself a glimmer of hope, stuck my book in with my things as I packed, and brought it up when we got onto the freeway.
My husband may have rolled his eyes; I wouldn’t know, since I was driving, and had to keep my eyes on the road.
Yes, dear reader, I both met Sarah Dessen (for the second time, actually, although I doubt she recognized me) and she signed my book. Which may make me slightly (or very) ridiculous, but also made me very, very happy.
What have you done over your summer and/or vacation?
For a novel that provides stark detail on the realities of eating disorders, The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a rather lovely book. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC, which I forgot about, then had a pleasant surprise in February that that new book I wanted to read and kept seeing in communications and bookstores was literally on my bookshelf.
At first glance of the cover and/or synopsis, the subject matter can seem a bit too easy. We all know that ballerinas and eating disorders go together like chocolate and peanut butter, which is ironic, since both of these edibles are items that a ballerina is likely never going to eat. Yet this novel really only involves one, particular, ballerina – protagonist Anna, who is a ballerina no longer. And ballet is not the only reason Anna has become obsessive about becoming thin. Like most women, there are a plethora of reasons that Anna has begun to believe the world as it shouted the message to her that thin is the new worthwhile.
To get the preliminaries out of the way – this novel is well done, and I recommend it if the cover, title, subject matter, fiction, etc., is at all interesting to you.
To get to what I am really interested in, could not help noticing as I read, and have found my mind drawn to long after having finished the last page, let’s talk about this book’s broader subject matter. As a woman, I have found myself torn between my desire to consume delicious food and my desire to be thin, but overall, thought I had a pretty healthy relationship with food. This novel caused me to re-evaluate and really think through my motivations when making food choices.
Because Anna doesn’t just stop eating. She’s just not eating enough. But limiting herself primarily to fruit and popcorn? Definitely things I have done, when I want a snack, and tell myself I need to eat more healthy. And exercising without having eaten enough? Also something I have done, generally telling myself I can eat after I have exercised (except I do, because in addition to wanting to be thin, I really, really like food). So while I am not in pain due to extreme fragility if I take a simple ride on a roller coaster, I found myself questioning the reasons why I wanted to eat more/less, what I wanted to eat, and realizing that, often, the motivations behind my eating are not ideal.
I am a compulsive eater, I love food, and I am a former dancer who has difficulty ascertaining of what a healthy weight consists for me and aspiring to be thinner than I currently am. I have to work to try to have and maintain a healthy relationship with food every day, and quite frankly, I don’t know that I have found it. While dancing, wearing a formfitting leotard in a room with a wall comprised of mirrors around other girls who due to genetics, not having hit puberty yet, or eating disorders, did not have any curves, certainly did not help me with my self-image, I would not say it caused my issues, either. If I had not danced, I would still be inundated with images clearly identifying thin as pretty, I would still notice the girls at school who were blessed with genetics or whose struggles were not apparent and who visually appeared to fit society’s mould of “pretty and thin,” and I would have still likely felt “not enough.” Not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Not confident enough to just rock what I was born with, and always comparing myself to those who are what I aspire to be, even when it is completely unrealistic.
One of the tricky things about eating disorders is that those who suffer from them cannot just quit their problem. If you have a drinking problem, and you survive withdrawal, you can subsequently abstain from drinking. It is not easy, but it is a clear and rational response to the problem. With anorexia and bulemia, abstaining from food is the problem. The thing that sufferers struggle with, that the sight of causes them to break out in sweat, is a thing that they also physically need in order to survive. This problem is a point that The Girls at 17 Swann Street drives home very well. And another point? Similar to those who suffer from addiction or mental illness, a person does not simply get better. Anna makes clear progress in the novel, but she could backslide into her old habits at any time.
I don’t think that I have an eating disorder. I think I am a pretty normal woman. Which brings me to the stark and unsettling conclusion that that means that I also think that every woman struggles with eating and body image.
What about you, dear reader? Do you agree? Disagree? I would love to read your thoughts. & although I am human and love agreement/validation, I would also love to be wrong about this conclusion I have drawn.