Monday, September 1, 2008

Rules for Saying Goodbye

by Katherine Taylor
Reviewed by Melissa

I have discovered that I have a fatal reading flaw: I can't tell satire to save my life.

This book, the first for Katherine Taylor, is getting all sorts of accolades from well-trafficked and well-respected venues (the book comes complete with prestigious cover blurbs, too), so I thought that it might be worth reading. After finishing it, though, I have to admit that I just didn't get it.

At first, I thought my dislike was because it reads so much like a memoir. I like memoirs in general, but a novel that feels like one -- the pacing, the story arc, the fact that the main character shares the exact same name as the author -- is bordering on weird for me. Honestly, I kept checking the cover just to make sure that it really was a novel. It says so... but the feel of the book jarred my reading experience -- it kept me guessing how much of the book was real (according to interviews, only 20 to 30 percent), which I suppose could be a good thing, but it also kept me from fully connecting with the characters, as if somehow I would have found it more believable/acceptable if the characters were fully real (or fully fake) rather than this miserable half-existence.

Then, I thought I would have enjoyed it more if the story arc was more coherent. The story begins with Katherine Taylor (no relationship to author) as a pre-teen in Fresno, California. Her mother wants her to "get out" so she is sent to a high-profile boarding school outside of Boston. There she meets friends, watches them "have experiences" (read: drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol), some of which (mostly the alcohol) she has. After school, she goes back to school in California, majoring in theater. She eventually ends up in New York City, on the pretense that she'll break into show-biz, but ends up as a bartender, living with her gay brother, having multiple failed relationships, trying to discover herself. There really isn't much of a plot here. Only two of the relationships -- both with Brits -- make it past the "I liked him, he liked me, we slept together and broke it off" stage, and neither of them were that interesting. I found the characters to be stupid, immature, banal, uninteresting and irritating. I felt that their exploits or problems were incredibly repetitive (she kept making the same mistakes over and over, and she never learned! Argh!) and I couldn't care less about their adventures or their close brushes with the rich and famous.

It wasn't until I finished the book, and started digging around the web for information on Katherine Taylor, when I realized the real purpose of the book: the characters were supposed to be this way. The story was supposed to be this way: repetitive, banal, stupid. Oh. As my brother used to say: light dawns on marble head. As a straightforward novel, it's quite dull. But as a satire... I could see it working. I can see why people think it's compelling -- I wouldn't go so far to say it's brilliant -- and edgy. A meta-modern, post-feminist, ironic take on the uber-career-minded single women of Generation X; of life in New York; of ambitious, climbing mothers; of relationships. A witty observation on Life As We Know It. I get it.


It's too bad that I didn't get it while I was reading it; it would have for a much more pleasant reading experience.

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