Hardly a spoiler, Noa P. Singleton is awaiting her execution for the murder she committed ten years earlier as this crime novel opens. In sections labeled Six Months Before Execution, Five Months Before Execution, and so on, the circumstances leading up to Noa’s incarceration are revealed. Her crime has suddenly become of interest to a young lawyer who, working with the mother of her victim, thinks he can build a case to prevent her execution. Her victim’s mother has aligned herself with an organization called MAD, Mothers Against Death. Little by little the reader learns about Noa’s past and her tortured relationship all of the individuals involved in her case. Little by little, this reader tired of her as a protagonist and was secretly hoping the ending would match the title – Sorry!
I have stuck with Meg Wolitzer through several novels, although I did not care for her last one, The Uncoupling. But my AP grading comrade and trusted reading friend, Paris, recommended it recently, so I dove in. The novel is a sweeping book covering four decades in 468 pages, and it deals with large issues of life – friendship and family, marriage and fidelity, money and success. It opens with a scene that suggested I was entering a Wes Anderson-style-Moonrise-Kingdom of a novel, set in a summer arts camp in Massachusetts called Spirit-in-the-Woods, where lifelong friendships are forged during an eight week season in a humid tepee full of teens who deem themselves, The Interestings. Here protagonist Julie Jacobson becomes Jules, a far more interesting name, and meets Ash and Goodman Wolf, Ethan Figman and Jonah Bay – four characters whose lives will knit and unravel in the decades to come, against the backdrop of Vietnam, the sexual revolution, AIDS, off-shore manufacturing, 9/11 and TED talks. I ended up liking the book very much in the way that I enjoy Jonathan Franzen or Tom Perrota who grapple with essential questions in their fiction. The essential question of this book seems to be “What does it take to live an interesting life?” The answer is summed up near the end of the book, when Ethan Figman, creator of a highly successful network cartoon, claims, “Everyone basically has one aria to sing over their entire life.” The book reminded me of my guarded wariness for the futures of all of the “interesting” teenagers I taught over the years – kids right out of the fictitious camp bible The Drama of the Gifted Child – who graduated from high school certain they were destined for greatness.
The cover of this novel says it all. Delia Ephron is out to entertain in this interrupted road trip novel. Tracee, Lana and Rita are all running away from something. Tracee is a kleptomaniac in a stolen wedding gown; Lana is an alcoholic with a keen eye for trouble; and Rita, who the two others pick up hitchhiking, is escaping a harsh minister husband. Their car crashes just in front of The Lion, a tired bar that houses a jukebox, a few regular customers and a neglected and retired circus lion in a cage inside the joint! Short chapters, crazy convergences, lion tricks and colorful characters make this a perfect summer chick read.