Short Take: If Carrie Bradshaw had a really ugly past.
Confession time! Way back when it was on HBO as a series, before the movies (I don’t talk about those), I LOVED Sex & The City. It was fun and fizzy and girly, it was about the dumb dating mistakes we all made in our 20’s, and it was about epic friendship and fabulous clothes.
But in looking back, the show was also 100% about the present. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha went careening through life, never acknowledging they had pasts, let alone learning from or regretting them, never planning for the future beyond the next hot date or perfect pair of shoes. I envied the hell out of them. They just WERE, you know? No family ties or leftover high school drama. They had a freedom that most of us can’t imagine.
Ani FaNelli has that life. She’s a rising star of a writer at a super-well-known women’s magazine, she lives in Manhattan, her clothes, hair, shoes and nails are always impeccable, and she’s just gotten engaged to Luke Harrison, a gorgeous, Wall Street, old-money type who’s a catch by any metric.
But behind the meticulously constructed image, there’s TifAni FaNelli (yes, weird capitalization and all), the new kid at the prestigious Bradley School. TifAni is desperate to fit in, and willing to do almost anything the popular crowd demands of her.
Needless to say, it’s ugly. And we see TifAni spiraling down further and further, until something so terrible happens that I’m actually still having a bit of trouble processing it. TifAni grows up, moves to New York, becomes the glamorous Ani, and tries to never look back.
But a documentary film crew wants to revisit the horror of Tifani’s past, and as she prepares to relive it on camera, we get bits and pieces until the entire awful truth comes out.
Ok. Let’s get this out of the way. This was yet another “If you loved Gone Girl…” book. I think we’re all pretty familiar with how I feel about those by now. But this was different. Instead of seeing the lovely sweet young bride revealed as a sociopath, we see the shallow, selfish, fairly awful young woman revealed as a victim, someone who uses bitchiness as a protective barrier.
Is it predictable? Kind of. I mean, the whole “nasty person was cruelly tormented as a kid” thing is Pop Psych 101. It definitely didn’t have the HOLY CRAP!! DID THAT JUST HAPPEN!!!! thing that Gone Girl had. But that’s not to say this was a bad book. On the contrary, there was a slow burn, a hard ugly nugget of truth revealed layer by layer, like a poisonous flower unfolding.
So in short, Luckiest Girl Alive is nothing like Gone Girl. But it’s still a pretty good book. Jessica Knoll does a great job of getting inside Ani’s head, of showing it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. She handles other characters, especially Ani’s childhood friend Arthur just as deftly, but it’s interesting that, for example, Luke is pretty much just a picture in a glossy magazine. The people who really know Ani are fully fleshed out, the ones who don’t, aren’t. And that’s actually a testament to the author’s dedication to her main character – when we read this book, we are so completely immersed in Ani’s world.
Is it kind of a lousy world? Oh yeah. But it’s also impossible to walk away from until we understand it fully.
The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and a pen with green ink)