“It seemed to Greta that Theresa was one of those girls who spent all of her time being an imposition while obviously trying not to be an imposition. Almost everything Theresa said or did broadcast the message ‘I won’t take it for myself. You’ll have to give it to me.’”
Molly Ringwald’s debut novel is described as a novel in stories and is really a short story collection in which the characters recur from one story to another – it reminded me of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad, which I disliked for its self-important and experimental nature. I much prefer Ringwald’s model, in which the characters are recurring although only tenuously, but time marches forwards rather than jumping about all over the place the way it did in Goon Squad.
Without the writing ever being spectacular or showy, Ringwald repeatedly pinpoints moments of life with heartrending accuracy – Greta’s desire to wear something a bit more flattering in case there are photos, Betty’s grief still being so deep that she pours an extra cup of tea even though her husband hasn’t been there to drink it in seven years. She writes with elegance about ageing and aimlessness, about a search for purpose and what happens when someone with extraordinary drive channels it in an unsuitable direction.
The heavy focus on relationships and adultery is perhaps to be expected in a novel about betrayal, although it does get pretty depressing. The chapters vary in strength, but that might be because a given reader will empathise with certain characters but not others. This is very much a women’s book – the men are generally negatively characterised (philandering, confused or dead).
Worth a read; I found it engrossing and elegant, if somewhat disheartening.
Side note: Molly Ringwald, author, is also Molly Ringwald, teenage star of films such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Which I’m glad I didn’t know before I read the book, because I think I would have judged the writing more harshly.