Alas, my illness has for the first time prevented me from working on my blog for over a week. As a result, I’m posting a few reviews this week, starting with this mid-week review of Luckiest Girl Alive.
True story: my mom subscribes to my blog, one of the first truly technological things she’s done without detailed explanation (love you, Mom). She saw a profile of this book in People magazine, gave me a credit card to buy the e-book, and asked me to read and review it on my blog so that she knew whether or not she should bother reading it. Apparently I have become her little review monkey. Still, my mom is one to supply books at will, so when she had a request I succumbed (it at least looked better than most of the read requests my inbox is spammed with daily). But don’t ever count on more than a mid-week review, Mom.
I didn’t end up recommending that my mother read this, but I was disappointed that I didn’t. This author seems to be genuinely good at what she does, destined to be a writer. By page 28, I had highlighted about 5 passages, and after the 5th one (just a simple passage: “It’s okay to be insufferable as long as you’re aware that you’re being insufferable. At least that’s how I justified it to myself”), I noted that I didn’t even care much where the story was going because the writing was so good. It felt like the author was having a conversation with me, like she was telling me a story while we sat in my living room. And yet it never felt too informal or lacking in writing style. Though the topics were serious in nature, she could weave a single sentence that made me laugh out loud in the midst of the tension and she knew how to handle that delicate balance. Her writing is an art.
Her plot execution, however, needs work. I find it is difficult to provide too much detail on why without blowing the entire book, so I will say this: This could have been an excellent book about teenage bullying and its tendency toward violence, the blurred lines and lingering scars of sexual assault, or a coming-of-age tale regarding rising above your past and discovering your strong femininity within. The problem for Knoll is that within 309 pages she tried to make her story equally focused on all three, leaving each story line only partially developed and vaguely realistic. To her credit, she tried hard to tell a tale that required interweaving of all of three stories, as if she could give them more weight by overlapping them. The attempt fell flat.
The central figure in this story, Ani FaNelli, is a strong female with a sorted past. She’s working through her psychological scars, her unsupportive adult relationships, and deciding if she wants to be herself or a version of herself that she deems more acceptable. Truly, this is my kind of character. Not only do I think every woman can relate to this double standard (am I who they want to be or who I am – who am I?), but I also like seeing anything in literature that addresses our societal gender biases head-on.
Unfortunately, the character eventually felt lost to me in the murky plot. Knoll’s initial story line is genuinely poignant and honest. As the story unfolds it grows more unbelievable, causing the eventual release of tension to feel very unfulfilling. Knoll could have carried that initial conflict through to a beautiful novel – why did she feel she needed something outrageous or “shocking” to make her points? To make the psychological damage more real? The need to be understood more understandable? By trying too hard to make her plot more interesting she actually made it less intriguing, losing the reader (at least this one). Once all of the story lines finally intersected, I simply wrote in all caps THIS SEEMS COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY TO DEVELOP THE STORY. And I still feel that way. It’s a shame Ani FaNelli was wasted on poor plot development.
The name of the novel keeps eating at me every time I think of this book, too. This is an annoyance I thought I would leave out of any review and yet here I am, biting my nails and discussing it. The name comes from a scene in which the female protagonist is having a quarrel with a law enforcement agent, who says, “Well aren’t you just the luckiest girl alive?” or something along those lines, attempting to belittle her scars and sincerity. The scene felt trite and disconnected. I’m frustrated that of the whole of the novel, some portions well developed, Knoll plucked that section as a description of what she felt lay within. It speaks, I think, to her inexperience in the field of literature despite having an understanding of journalism.
What I find equally bothersome, why is everyone comparing this novel to Gillian Flynn? It’s across the top of Knoll’s cover! While I think Knoll’s style of writing was quite witty and well executed, it doesn’t hold a candle to the easy, well-developed flow of Flynn. What’s more, not every novel that has a strong female lead and suspense are similar to Gone Girl; there are so many additional elements that determine whether books are comparable, yet those are the only similarities I found after having read both Flynn and Knoll. This novel is essentially nothing like Gone Girl; in fact, if you love Gone Girl, I would NOT recommend Luckiest Girl Alive.
I think Knoll is going to end up being a great writer, and come out with something amazing – maybe within the next few years. But this was her first try, and it seemed as though she rushed to throw everything in to make it appealing enough, lacking the wisdom that sometimes a simpler formula is much more gripping and surprising than the outlandish. I’ll probably make sure to get her next one from the library.