Quick Review: LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)

KnollJ-LuckiestGirlAliveAn interesting, but flawed novel

Her perfect life is a perfect lie.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for — or, will it at long last, set Ani free?

This was an interesting read. The hype surrounding it was considerable, and as far as I could tell everyone was pegging it in the same sub-genre as Gone Girl. Which… isn’t really where it belongs. I read this pretty quickly, and did enjoy reading it. But, given the hype and synopsis, I kept expecting some momentous twist. Which never arrived. While it’s well-written, the novel is flawed, and ultimately didn’t satisfy as much as I’d hoped.

Knoll’s prose is tightly written, and she does a great job of pulling the reader through the story. I enjoyed reading it, and never had a problem picking it up to continue. In hindsight, though, there’s not a whole lot that one can say about it without completely ruining the story. The author’s descriptions and characters are well-composed, and most of them are pretty interesting. Even if none of them are sympathetic. (Except maybe one, Ani’s high school teacher and running coach.) I couldn’t help but want someone to root for, although that would have been counter to the purpose of the novel, I think.

Ani is a strange character — she’s internalized all of society’s demands and expectations of women (especially Manhattan’s), and it’s clear that’s messed her up quite a bit. Her fiancee is sometimes insensitive, and always self-involved. He really doesn’t help her psyche, either (at one point, I just wanted to punch him in the face). She’s a slightly inconsistent character, swinging between sensitive and mean, though mainly this dual-nature is well-done and believable. Her internal monologue is interesting, overlaying what she says and does with a bitter, narcissistic sheen of observation. It can sometimes be amusing and sharp. Also, I have no doubt that’s how many people do think, so it benefits from having a character that is brutally honest. Although, that brutal honest does loop us back to the lack of sympathetic characters. The high school flashbacks can sometimes feel like they’re influenced by Mean Girls (minus the humour), which is no bad thing.

Then, however, there are strange moments (thankfully few and far between), in which it feels like Knoll was going for shock value, or trying to make this “gritty”. For example, when Ani informs readers that she likes rough sex, and that her fiancee can’t provide what she wants. She, apparently, likes “electric shocks to [her] pussy with a ball gag in [her] mouth”. If that’s your jam, then fine — but nothing about the rest of the novel gives this any context, nor made me think Ani was actually a masochist. So, instead of being shocking (or whatever), it instead felt like a rather clunky attempt to grab our attention.

Through the events in the novel, Knoll did a good job of discussing certain contemporary issues in the US (education, guns, class, consumerism, sexuality, etc.). The story, however, just kind of fizzles out. An anti-climax. Yes, one event from Ani’s past was shocking and devastating. But… that synopsis suggests that she committed some heinous crime. But, actually, that’s not the case. I can’t go into any more detail, otherwise there’d be really no point in anyone else reading it.

For the main, I thought this was a well-written novel. The marketing is slightly off, I think, making it seem like a Gone Girl-type crime/thriller, when it’s not really — it’s more a story of a woman who has been messed up by her past and society’s pressures. I was led to expect more. After finishing this, I was left with the feeling that I had missed something, or simply not got what I was supposed to have taken away. It’s a little frustrating.

If you’re looking for an interesting story of a woman navigating expensive Manhattan society, while escaping and confronting her past, then Luckiest Girl Alive should work for you.

*

Luckiest Girl Alive is published by Simon & Schuster in the US and Canada, and by Macmillan in the UK.

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