Why I read it: I received a copy for review via NetGalley.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Molly Young has a secret. To keep it she holds the world at a distance. Behind her lies a trail of dumped boyfriends who came too close to discovering what no one can know. When her estranged father dies of an unexpected heart attack he leaves an even deeper secret, one tied to Molly’s.
At the funeral repast Molly is unable to tolerate the shoulder-to-shoulder mourners and runs out the door and down the street to the nearest bar. Come dawn, with no memory of the past ten hours, she finds herself in bed with a beautiful stranger. She slips away before he wakes up, unaware of the role he’s about to play in her life. Is he the one guy who can convince Molly to face her painful secret and become the person she’s meant to be?
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I’m not sure how helpful this review will be to anyone because it’s been days since I read the book and I still don’t quite know what to make of it. Even describing the story seems spoilerish but I can’t work out another way to do it. So, with the warning that there may be spoilers (I can’t tell if they count as spoilers or not), let’s proceed.
The story starts at the “funeral after party” for Molly Young’s adoptive father – a professor at the local university and, as described by Molly, “a monster”. There are no prizes for guessing what makes him a monster, even though it is not explicitly stated for most of the book. (In fact, it felt so obvious I wondered for a while if it was going to be a red herring, but alas). Suffocated by the well-meaning sympathy and the curious ogling of the mourners, Molly runs out and heads to a bar where she proceeds to get blackout drunk. She eventually meets a handsome young man and they share drinks and laughs and at last head back to his hotel room. They do not exchange names or anything meaningful but they do exchange phone numbers. At the hotel room Molly jumps on the young man expecting sex but he’s not into it – she seems too desperate and he’s uncomfortable with how drunk she is. They sleep and she wakes up with no memory of events after the first bar and believing she’d had a drunken hookup. Leaving the hotel before he wakes she heads home and readies herself for the meeting witht her father’s lawyer regarding the late professor’s will.
Here’s where I’m not sure about the spoiler. Because I kind of have to talk about Ian (the young man) but it won’t make any sense if I don’t say that he is also present at the lawyer’s office. He turns out to be the biological son of the professor and, apart from a $500 bequest, his sole heir.
Molly is less freaked out because she knows she’s no blood relation but she keeps this information to herself to keep Ian at a distance.
The story is only 140 pages long. Most of it is told from Molly’s first person POV but there is about a third (?) of the story told from Ian’s third person perspective. Rather than enabling the reader to “know” both characters, I felt this device was used more to show the reader things Molly did not and could not know. By the end of the book, I didn’t feel like I knew either Molly or Ian well.
There is also a disappointing lack of condomage in the book and no discussion of birth control or safe sex at all.
Possibly, there is something meta about how Molly doesn’t let anyone get below the surface of her. She doesn’t allow herself to be known, her secrets are too devastating to share. And similarly, the book seems to skim along the surface of some fairly heavy topics and along the surface of the relationship between the two protagonists. (Or possibly, I have used “meta” in the wrong way). And while that may be the case, it didn’t give me, as reader, much to cling to as the story progressed.
Molly spends a lot of her time contemplating suicide and thinking it was something she could always do later. It wasn’t as flip as that sounds. She was very alone, even in a group, even with people who wanted to be let in and she was very depressed.
Possibly, if I were a fan of Nirvana and knew more about their music I would have connected better to the book – Molly was born on the day Kurt Cobain shot himself and she feels a close connection to him and his lyrics as a result. It is also where the title of the book comes from, as well as a general message of self-acceptance.
There were a lot of theories about the lyrics of the song. Some people said it was about drugs, and the gun was a metaphor for a needle. Most thought it was about accepting people no matter who they were, no matter what ethnicity, gay or straight, rich or poor. But I think part of what makes any song special is being able to bring yourself to the song and interpret it from your own perspective. And I liked to think that had been Kurt Cobain’s intention. He took my hand and pulled me into a story, but he didn’t tell me what I was seeing. He left that to me. That’s what I wrote in a more formal style.
For me, the song was about being yourself. Not hiding. Not pretending. Not being fake. And here I was, someone who’d carried this big secret with me for so many years. Always keeping a part of myself hidden from everybody, friend or enemy. But the stuff Ian said was true. Maybe my past didn’t define me. Just because I had a dark secret didn’t mean I wasn’t me. It didn’t mean people didn’t know me. They just didn’t know all of me. And that was okay.
The writing is mostly all in that spare almost flat style – a style which reflects Molly’s affect for much of the book. There was even something about the font which enhanced that effect for me.
There were other revelations later in the book which were darker and more shocking and which did not have time to be unpacked. The book was just too short and I felt a little like I had been walloped over the head with some things and left with no time to recover. There is an almost casual sexual assault late in the book involving a new flatmate and Molly – on the one hand, the casualness of it made it all the more shocking, but I was unhappy with the acceptance of it, the laughter at it by Molly’s female flatmate and there were no adverse consequences for the dude in question which also bothered me very much.
There was something whimsical about the ending, daring and brave and accepting at the same time. Ian was pretty much perfect in many ways – I’m sure there was more to him than I knew but he was presented as a foil for Molly for the most part.
What else? My only other experience with Theresa Weir’s writing was The Girl with the Cat Tattoo (scroll down for the review), which I liked but did not love. Many of my reading friends rate Ms. Weir very highly, so I don’t know if, had I been more familiar with her work and her writing voice I would maybe have connected better? I can’t say how much like her other work this book is. I did like The Girl with the Cat Tattoo better – the whimsy of it felt more suited to the story and it did not try to tell many stories or tackle many major issues. I felt this book had too much in it to properly traverse such serious topics and I felt like the characters kept sliding away from me as I tried to capture them in my mind.
But then I come back to that idea of Molly being unable to connect (for almost all of the book at least) and that being reflected in my reading experience and then I wonder how much of it was me? I’m really not good at subtext.
Anyhow, I still don’t quite know what to make of it and I’m really not sure of the grade. Probably not terribly helpful to anyone but that’s the best I can do I’m afraid.
I think this is a great review, because you give a sense about why the book was confusing–or why your response to it might have been conflicted. That’s helpful. Aside from Girl With the Cat Tattoo (which I thought was whimsical fun, and I’m still hoping for more in that series) I have read her debut, Amazon Lily, which I enjoyed and admired but which wasn’t really my thing. In a way, it seems like some of the high drama (and condom free, maybe? I can’t recall) elements of that late-80s style book and used them in a New Adult romance. And in a way that makes sense, because there is a kinship between a lot of/some NA and older romances–female point of view, a focus on the heroine’s journey, intense emotion. When I first heard Weir had written a NA I thought it was a very odd fit, but maybe not.
I am pretty sure I can guess the secret here and I have to say that I am tired of finding this the big, dark, too long kept secret of so many books, and I don’t just mean in the romance genre. The idea that this kind of thing IS a “dark secret” is really damaging, after all, and is what perpetrators rely on (I don’t mean that many people don’t keep it secret, they do of course, but I’m tired of books generating drama out of that). Ditto for seemingly gratuitous and unprocessed sexual assault scenes.
I’ll admit, though, that my main response to this review is: “OMFG I am OLD. She was born on the day of Cobain’s death and she’s more than 5?!?!”
@Liz Mc2: it’s strange because, while there was a lot of drama in the things that happened in the book, I found the story to be fairly flat in tone. No, that’s not right…. something else – certainly not playing up the drama. It wasn’t melodramatic like a lot of NA is. It was a lot more low key than that.
I said in a recent DA review that I don’t particularly have any hot buttons regarding sexual violence in books but that if it was there, I wanted it to be traversed with due gravity. I didn’t want it to be there for a cheap thril or to provide some melodrama. Here it wasn’t traversed but I can’t say it was actually a cheap thrill either because there is (as per above) something about the tone that negates that image for me. The book seemed to only skim the surface of so many things – I think if it had’ve gone deeper it may well have descended into melodrama… I don’t know. It’s hard for me to describe my reaction to it really – it was certainly very readable but… *shrugs*
And, I hear you re Cobain! 🙂