Monday, September 28, 2015

"Luckiest Girl Alive": Mean Spirited and Darkly Twisted

I read yet another book that is capitalizing on the success of Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and yet another thriller with psychotic women at it's core that has the word "girl" in the title.  Even Reese Witherspoon has tweeted about how amazing Jessica Knoll's twisted novel "Luckiest Girl Alive" but does it live up to the hype and it's instant New York Times Bestseller status?

I'm a firm believer that just because everyone else thinks something is fantastic doesn't mean that it actually is.  I also don't always agree with the books that everyone thinks are amazing.  Page turning doesn't always equate to awesome book.  For me, "Luckiest Girl Alive" didn't have a soul or the soul of Ani (formally TifAni) FaNelli was as black as the rose on the front cover.

As the lone narrator of this book, Ani, invites her readers into her seemingly perfect life as she prepares for her amazing wedding in Nantucket to her amazing, blue blood fiancee who seems to adore her.  Ani works as a feature writer at The Women's Magazine in New York City.  Her main work revolves around sex tips for women and she aspires for something greater even though many would kill to have her job, and her fiancee, and her fancy labeled clothes (which she constantly references), and her ever shrinking, wedding preparation waist line (which she is obsessed with).

But Ani has a huge blemish on her past that she longs to forget and that the reader isn't really privy to until the last half of the novel.  The immensity of her teenage days as TifAni, an outsider who is plunged into the old money world of the very prestigious Bradley School and the privileged and ugly lives of her classmates, gave her the ambition to stop at nothing in order to make others believe she is worthy.  While at Bradley she was willing to sacrifice her reputation, her safety and in some instances her sanity in order to make the popular kids like her, but the mean spirited nature of the school sucks her in even further and further.  The bottoming out is horrific and maybe not as poignant as it should be?

This novel reminded me of the very dark and twisted movie Heathers (1988) starring Christian Slater and Winona Rider, but with even more disturbing aspects in it.  I quite liked Heathers (at least I did when I was a teenager, but I haven't seen it in many years), but found more of a distaste than a fondness for "Luckiest Girl Alive." Ultimately this novel felt like a mean YA novel full of spoiled rich kids who mistreat themselves and others while Mommy and Daddy's money protects them from consequences.  I guess that might be why the emotional weight of what happens to everyone didn't feel as heavy to me.  Each character in this book is contemptible in different ways.  Ani is an insatiable snob who doesn't really care about anyone but herself even after all the events play out.  Her best friend Nell is the same.  Ani's mother only cares how things look to others.  The popular students at Bradley are ridiculous stereotypes of every mean girl and mean bully movie ever created.  Ani's fiancee's cluelessness doesn't seem to fit and the scenes which feature his bland mother and father and overly racist cousin ring false.  The few characters who do garner compassion also disappoint as the story unfolds.  One becomes a monster, and the other a lewd predator.

I always have high hopes for any new thriller that promises to be entertaining and intense, but mostly I am let down by how psychotic and shallow everyone in many thrillers are.  I find myself drawn in more by psychologically complex characters who lose their way, or are aware of their darkness, or are  compassionate in some way.  For me, "Luckiest Girl Alive" lacked that sensitive side and ultimately felt bleak and heartless.

Reese Witherspoon has already bought the rights to make it into a movie, and it will most likely be very popular and many people will read "Luckiest Girl Alive" and love it.  I'm just not one of them.

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