Writers and Lovers by Lily King

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this. First–I couldn’t put it down. I was captivated. But then, I also had the sense I sometimes get that most of what it was doing was describing–extremely accurately–a painful experience. Here, it’s one that I clearly recognize, not because I’ve really endured it myself, but because it’s adjacent to certain parts of my life. Paths I’ve peered down. People I know well.

Casey, the narrator, is in her early 30s. She’s very literary, has a degree in creative writing, and is living in Cambridge trying to finish her first novel while being in debt, bereaved, and single, and working as a waitress at a high-end restaurant while writing for a few hours every morning. Those are my friends and classmates — and I’m the one she, perhaps a little derisively, brings up who bailed and went to law school. Plus, the setting is familiar, with mentions of a number of actual businesses in Harvard Square, Porter Square, Central Square, Inman Square, where I’ve spent some time.

She’s also struggling with the recent death of her mother, and her reckoning with who she’d been while alive, as well as her history with her father, who turned out to be a real creep. Add to that other ways in which she confronts her own mortality. She has palpable anxiety. She’s just holding on. There are just a whole lot of layers, mostly beautifully drawn.

Yet? Is there a yet? Maybe it’s just a knee-jerk resistance to writing about writers. Maybe it’s that, for all the strands, it ends up feeling a little too neat. So much so that I actually wonder whether it’s even intended, in its ending, to be realist, or whether we’ve somehow veered into the fantasy life of the narrator.

It’s not especially original, but it is just so searingly accurate in describing something familiar, and so complex, with so many carefully imagined (or recalled?) angles and details surfacing throughout, that that doesn’t matter. Originality is probably overrated. These aren’t complaints. I loved it. I read it fast. Maybe I’ll read it again.

And anyway, I was sold before I started, because dear Liz had tipped me off to a little love letter to Faulkner that arises in the text. (Which was weird, because that also happened in the Sigrid Nunez book I just finished.)

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