Monday, June 7, 2010

The One That I Want

I’m writing this while listening to the soundtrack to Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. I think that tells you a lot about where I’m coming from in this review.

Somehow, some way, lost in the midst of the burbling twitter stream, I began following Allison Winn Scotch. Her twitter presence combines a lot of amusing snarky stuff and interesting, insightful writing-life stuff. And then I found her blog, which focuses on the art and craft of writing.

Since I noticed that she was a New York Times bestselling novelist, I grabbed one of her novels from the library. Now, she writes what some might categorize as chick-lit, which is absolutely a category of fiction that I haven’t really experienced. Her new novel came out last week and a couple months ago she began holding contests to give away advance copies. Well, I managed to, um, not exactly win a contest, but in some other way tricked her into sending me a copy (a little more about that can be read here). So with those caveats, here’s a look at the book.
The One That I Want: A Novel

The One That I Want follows Tilly Farmer, a woman ten years or so out of high school in age but whose life still revolves, in many ways, around that exact same small town school. She works as the school’s somewhat ineffectual guidance counselor, helps put together the big musical production and also plans the annual prom – still the highlight of her year. She’s trying to get pregnant and, in her mind, lives the perfect life.

But then she runs into an old friend, one she really hasn’t associated with since middle school, and is somehow given a strange gift – the gift of clarity. Tilly begins to have visions, very precise visions, of her own future. And she doesn’t like what she sees.

In seemingly effortless prose, Scotch presents a capsule of a life, a very typical life, and the way we can all be tricked by our own preconceptions. Tilly desperately wants her life to be happy and fulfilling, so she has forced herself to believe that it is. Her visions, however, crack open the façade she’s built around herself and reveal the not-so-pretty truth – about herself, the way she treats others, the way others treat her.

“Imagine, if you can, that you are sixteen again.” So reads the opening sentence, and it neatly encapsulates Tilly’s life. In many ways, she IS still sixteen. She clings so hard to her little town, to her little school, to her little life, that she’s unable to allow herself to grow, to really mature. She wants the world to be a pretty prom picture without having to experience the discomfort that led to that pose.

By novel’s end, Tilly’s world shifts. She’s released the narrow parameters within which she’s maintained her family members, allowing them to be who they really are, and, in so doing, released herself to become a fuller person. She’s finally engaging with the world as it really is. And isn’ t that what we should all be doing?

This is an engaging and entertaining novel, great for, yes, reading at the beach. It’s comfortable and well-paced and just insightful enough to make you pause before leaping into the surf.

P.S. I am so dense that I did not realize that the title of the book was an allusion to the musical Grease until three days after I finished reading it.


Laura Eno said...

Very nice, well thought out review! You summerized it quite effectively while not overexposing the mystery of reading it for ourselves.

Marisa Birns said...

This is a very cogent review! You sold me...