Author: Laura Buzo
Publication Date: 5/1/12
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
[Goodreads | Fishpond]
Blurb(GR): Holly Yarkov has a boyfriend who is a gift from the universe. She has a job that fulfills her even as it wears her down. She has a core group of friends from high school. And she has a layer of steel around her heart that is beginning to tarnish. Just as she is reaching for a future she can't quite see, Holly is borne back into the past by memories of her beloved father, and of the boy-who-might-have-been...
Grief and longing run like veins of quicksilver through this beautiful novel, at once gloriously funny and achingly sad.
Laura's confident, astute and witty voice has already been recognised with the success of Good Oil, with North American English rights sold to Knopf and German language rights sold to Arena. It was also shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Her second novel is extraordinary and bittersweet – and shows us exactly what it is like to be a young person today – navigating the complexities of work, love, family and how to pay the rent.
This is one of those books that readers will either totally connect to or not so much, as totally evidenced by the reviews on Goodreads (and in this three-way! heh), and it is understandable. There isn't a ton of plot movement, but I thought the book flew by because I was enthralled with the characters, what choices they would make, and whether Holly's Sims meters would get the upturn that I kept hoping they would. Holly compartmentalized grief from the death of her father, she's mourning the loss of several friendships, and she's wondering about her relationship. This book is just about the buildup, buildup, buildup, and release. I love it all the more for the fact that many questions are never answered. That's life.
I don't know if St. Martin's actually found and published any projects following this contest, but "New Adult" term appears to have stuck. There have been a few titles that could be categorized as "New Adult" that I adored - Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son, Gayle Forman's Where She Went and Buzo's own Good Oil. I can't say I felt the same way about Holier Than Thou, which is positively a "New Adult" title.
23-year old Holly is fresh out of college, with a new job, a new serious boyfriend and a new very own apartment. She is happy and liberated, that is until she isn't anymore. The job is exhausting psychologically, the boyfriend is not as shiny any more and old school friends are distant and busy. Suddenly this adulthood seems too difficult to Holly...
In spite of my high hopes (after all, Good Oil was one of my top favorite books of last year), reading Holier Than Thou wasn't a riveting or even pleasant experience for me.
For one, my general attitude towards "New Adult" set of issues is pretty dismissive. Sarah LaPolla put a great name to what bothers me the most about "New Adult" lit - it is its emphasis on and exploration of "extended adolescence." Funny that watching HBO's new show Girls was what cemented my thoughts on "New Adult" themes - "New Adult" experiences, to me, are more often than not colored by pretentiousness, immaturity, self-entitlement and moochery. I am not quite sure why I am so negative towards these issues, being barely out of "New Adult" years myself. Maybe because my own "New Adult" experience was never as depressing as Holly's seems to be. I finished school, I didn't have neither opportunity nor desire to live off my parents' monetary support any longer, I started my adult life in a different country, with a different set of acquaintances and a new culture, and it was exciting, difficult too, with crappy jobs and financial strain, but it was exciting most of all. It is not interesting or compelling to me to observe people who make big deals out of issues that are not crucial, like Holly. If you don't like your job - get another one, if you are attracted to a man other than the one you are committed to - sit for a minute and examine which relationship you want to pursue, if your former friends are now distant and have new interests - that's just natural, people grow up and grow apart. None of Holly's experiences struck me as life-altering or worthy of the amount of ennui presented in this novel.
But mainly I think I just didn't connect with Holly and her friends on a personal level. With vibrant characters I can get into pretty much any story, but as told in Holly's words, it was pretty dull, colorless, sad and uninteresting to me. Holier Than Thou reminded me of a few pretentious books about college students - Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot or Donna Tartt's The Secret History which center on students obsessed with finding meaning of life, but not finding it most likely because of the life of privilege they've led, and a couple of sad, full of adult angst novels like Anna Quindlen's One True Thing or Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes. Essentially, Holier Than Thou turned out to be for me nothing more than another piece of depressing women's fiction, made even more unsatisfying by the completely open, ambiguous ending. Maybe I simply don't have that college years' nostalgia that would have helped me connect with Holly's issues? Or maybe I didn't have the luxury of time to lament, at length, my disappearing careless (did I have it?) youth and the decline of parting and loss of friends? Either way, Holier Than Thou made very little impact on me.
This book made me remember:
Having my own place for the first time: it was tiny and dingy but it was mine. Quoting The Simpsons to anyone and everyone. Listening to hours of Tori Amos. How I used to feel about having kids. All the friends that flowed into and out of my life. How impossible it was hold on to any of them, no matter how much I might have wanted to. That one person who I’ll never be able to forget, even though I probably should. Working in public service: facing the gruesome side of humanity every day and finding not always appropriate ways to cope with that. Watching my friends work in the private sector. Believing I could make a difference. Realizing that I probably never would. Breaking rules I thought were set in stone. Meeting the one, several times. Never knowing for sure if I made the right decision about anything. Regretting.
This is one case where I actually feel like I got much much more out of this book because I read it as an older adult. I can look back at my early twenties now and realize that losing friends happens all the time, to everyone (and really, it never stops sucking). I can see how pointless it was to second guess decisions that could never be re-made. I can see that I’m a public servant through and through and it was fulfilling to me, even if I didn’t make a difference. I can see that all of those rules that I held so dear were really just holding me back. And I can see that the real steel isn’t earned by holding it together indefinitely. The real steel is earned by falling apart and then putting yourself back together again.
Reading this as an older adult had another effect on me too – it made the ending about one hundred times more devastating, because I could feel everything that was ahead for Holly. I love ambiguous endings - so much so that a few of my friends refer to them as “Catie endings.” This ending is without a doubt a Catie ending. Holy moly but did she give it right to me. With a side of chips. She gives us Holly’s deceptively strong outer walls, her rapidly rising tide of grief and regret, and just as the first cracks are starting to show, just as we get a glimpse of how deep that pool goes; it’s over. This is a beautiful, poignant, devastating snapshot of the early twenties experience and it is one of my favorite reads of the year.
Perfect Musical Pairing
The Jezabels - Easy To Love