I received this book from Crown Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for review.
This book promises Secret History vibes, Jeffrey Eugenides vibes! These comparisons will only set it up for failure to meet the reader’s expectations.
But even without the comparisons, it isn’t going to grip you the way a “murder story” does. Probably because it’s not much of a murder story. It’s more of a scope of three characters’ lives, Georgia, Charlie, & Alice.
We begin with Georgia, in the present, which helps to create more empathy for her since her younger self, while not necessarily an awful character, is the type most modern readers would find a pain to read. Young, pretty, white, financially well-off, a bit naive, a bit glorified. Which isn’t to say I don’t think we shouldn’t read characters like this, but it’s been done before, & a whole lot better. But present day Georgia’s life is shittier. Yay! Characters with shitty lives! She has a baby girl & a sick husband, & it makes vague references to a mysterious affair with a professor from her past.
Charlie begins as a young Cinderella man, working & studying to pave his way toward fulfilling his American Dream. His daddy’s mean, his brother is a military golden boy who has a proclivity toward theft, the mommy loves her boys. It’s all very cute.
Alice probably has the most interesting background story. Her family immigrated from Serbia. Her father dies, & the mother moves closer to her brother into a Serbian neighborhood where she can ignore the rest of America & their damn relentless dreaming. Alice’s personality however, is a bit unhinged. She’s probably a repressed lesbian, she’s definitely self loathing, she’s not easy to figure out. Some of her one liners are the kind you hate that you love, others are cheesy chapter enders. But she’s probably the most interesting, if not the most likable.
We soon get the (almost) full story, Georgia slept with a professor at her prestigious college. He, Professor Storrow, was supposedly behind the murder of a fellow student, Julie, a character who technically isn’t ever present in the story except for a few moments or in the character’s thoughts. Alice has some fucked up love/hate friendship/relationship with Georgia so she reports on it. Did Storrow murder Julie? Did Alice? Do we care? Not really, because it sure doesn’t seem like the author did.
Because the next several chapters, about half the book, is dedicated to the aftermath of the murder. The boring, shitty details of these three characters’ lives. The book starts to try to encompass too much. Alice’s D-list career (or lack of career) & psychotic episodes. Georgia’s daddy issues & her husband falling ill. Worst of all is Charlie, who is definitely the most sympathetic character, but is reduced to some corporate honcho stressing over the ethics of war security, which may be an interesting topic, if it didn’t come out of nowhere & if the author actually presented some sort of dilemma or argument over it. Instead we’re left, much like our characters, not giving a single shit about anything going on in their lives. It was like an in depth character story that couldn’t decide if it wanted to go in depth or stick to the plot.
If I’m being honest, the first half really hooked me. I was in for the plot. Storrow seemed just creepy enough to commit a murder, but just ideal enough to understand why you wouldn’t want him to. Even with all the slander against him, you find yourself thinking maybe he’s not a murdering, racist, tool?
But then the second half comes, you read all this shit you don’t care about because they give you such broad strokes of their lives you don’t have time to care, & maybe the last five pages or so are about the murder again. Sure Storrow pops up here & there, but if these bits were meant to creep me out, they failed. I won’t spoil anything, but let me tell you, there’s no big plot twist. It’s either one of the two things you probably already think.
The book is underwhelming which is a shame because the writing style was probably best suited to the genre this book claims to be. So while I will probably try more of Kirman’s work in the future, this one seemed like a lackluster debut. I’m hoping for better, more concentrated work ahead. The elements are all there, there’s just too many & too sparse, it just couldn’t deliver.