I’ve pretty much given up on asking for advice from friends on what to read next: more often than not they recommend a NY pulp bestseller: the latest from Grisham, something really esoteric, or the latest young adult craze. Still, when a fellow English lit major recommends something that I wouldn’t pick up on my own, I’ll sometimes consider it. Such was the case with “Faking It” by Elisa Lorello. Plus, it was only a buck on kindle.
The book blurb reads: After breaking off her engagement, thirty-something writing professor Andi Cutrone abandons New England for her native Long Island to focus on her career and start over. When she meets Devin at a cocktail party, the sight of an honest-to-goodness male escort shocks her–and fascinates her more than a little. Months later, Andi impulsively calls Devin. Over cheesecake in Brooklyn, she offers him a proposition: he will teach her how to be a better lover, and in return, she will give him writing lessons. He agrees, and together they embark upon an intense partnership that proves to be as instructive as it is arousing. For in the midst of lessons in rhetorical theory and foreplay, Andi and Devin delve into deeper questions about truth, beauty, and self, gradually coming face-to-face with the issues at the core of their emotional limitations. Smart, witty, and introspective, Faking It is an engrossing novel about two people discovering their authentic selves.
The book is the purest form of chick lit: a book that supposedly rises above the premises of the traditional female “romance” and into something approximating literature — yet it falls short. Some people decry the genre of “chick lit” — they claim that it is as valid as male-dominated literature. There’s a certain degree of truth to this sentiment: after all, nobody would ever call anything by Steinbeck “man lit,” yet there is something quintessentially masculine about many of his books. When a woman writes a novel about female characters that rises above the title of “chick lit” there is a certain sense of surprise to it: see, for instance, the reviews centered around Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, “The Interestings.” As though women writing about women cannot rise to the vaulted level of Faulkner, Joyce, or Twain, or even to the level of female novelists who write from a man’s perspective, or write about men: A.S. Byatt is a perfect example. Just because a woman writes about women does not necessarily mean that the work is somehow “less” than other literature.
After reading novels like “Faking It,” however, it is easy to see where this divide exists between true literature and chick lit. It’s literature-lite: more than a normal romance, and dancing around deeper themes and truths, but never quite getting there. The characters are a little too two-dimensional, the plot a little too contrived, the language a little too unwieldy and the style a bit too pedantic. Take this novel: in what world would a sexually inexperienced Long Islander ever contract with an escort: sexual teachings in exchange for lessons on writing that the escort could find just as easily at a Gotham Writing Workshop class (and honestly, from my own experience, quite a bit better). The premise itself doesn’t make sense, from either character’s point of view.
The characterization is off, as well: both characters have emotional shortcomings which are easily and narrowly traced to their upbringings: when the characters reconcile a childhood experience with adulthood, those emotional shortcomings are magically resolved. Psychology simply doesn’t work that way, and neither do people. Neither should characters, if they are fully fleshed out.
The writing is simple, which is particularly disappointing when we as readers are supposed to believe that the narrator is an exceptional memoirist and a respected academic. Yet, this supposedly brilliant woman needs to look up the word “lascivious” in a dictionary, and espouses theories of rhetoric that aren’t particularly new or fresh. These are the kind of oversights that may not be caught by the casual reader, or the person looking for a light beach read — but such lack of attention to detail reduces the overall quality and prevents a good story from becoming a great story. A deus ex machina arrives at the end: a new man who replaces the escort’s role in the narrator’s life: this is how we are to know that the narrator has grown and changed, and can now accept a full, complete relationship with a man who is written as nearly perfect. As a reader, it’s unfulfilling: it’s too easy of a fix for a supposedly flawed character, and it leaves the original escort floating adrift. . .a loose end that isn’t quite tied up.
But perhaps the biggest failure of the book is its forgettability. I read this book about three years ago: I reread it recently because I saw that it was listed on my kindle, and I hadn’t the slightest idea what it was about. I read the entire novel as though it were the first time — not because it was so engaging, or so brilliant, but rather because it was so forgettable. Contrast this with “Middlesex” (final review upcoming!) which, seven years after I first read it, has passages that still resound in my mind, and a plot that nibbles around the edge of consciousness.
That being said: if I’m going to lie out on the beach in the hot, August sun, I’d much rather a piece of fluff that will leave my mind as open and blissed out as a nap, rather than a grueling read — even if that difficult journey is far more rewarding in the end.