Labor Day weekend: the predawn of the school year for us in New York. My son will be a first grade boy! I have less apprehension about this year, as there have been glimpses of the mature boy that he is headed toward, but there still is some. He’s still him, after all.
It’s been a BookRiot binge. A binge! I think I just love a list, but whatever, it’s guiding my reading appreciably.
A Book With a Cover You Hate:
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrarante
So yeah, this cover, bar none, cracked me in the face the first time I saw it. BookRiot gave examples of books whose covers they don’t like, but it was usually because the cover had nothing to do with the story, or it was part of a series of covers that featured the authors over any other aspect of the book, like Margaret Atwood chilling on the cover of A Handmaid’s Tale. This cover is way uglier than any author could dream of being. And for clarification, I am only talking about the first novel cover, not the series, but I will mention that in a bit.
It’s ugly to me because it looked so impossibly common and cheap. I have said before I don’t tend to read books with a shoe, a purse, jewelry or a martini glass on the cover (except a witchy cozy because come on, its a cozy with magic) and a wedding is certainly on that list. An ugly wedding at that. An ugly wedding at the top!
Interestingly, the wedding in the book felt to me as superficial and cheesy as the picture on the cover. This brilliant novel, and I will agree with everyone else who finds her writing brilliant, is about two girls born into a world that neither is really suited for. One, the narrator, is supported by her parents by distinguishing herself from the usual fates of neighborhood girls by allowing her to attend school much longer and shining at it much more. The other is not allowed to shine through school so shines by living the most prized existence possible within the confines of her world. She shines by (spoiler alert) attracting and marrying one of the most desirable neighborhood boys and displaying a wealth and sophistication only dreamed of by others, but as I said, I think her marriage to him is more about beating everyone at their own game rather than being a true source of fulfillment for her. At the end of this first installment, there’s no proof that either is particularly happy. I feel that both females are at their happiest with one another, even though the relationship has it’s dysfunctional aspects.
There is a little codependency on the narrator’s part. She chases after a friend who she truly loves, but who can be as emotionally unavailable and even less predictable at times than her own mother, who predictably and pretty consistently hates her. She also develops real feelings for a boy for the first time who can be focused on himself and unavailable as well. I mean, a mother who hates you will cause you to seek out relationships that are emotionally uneven. It makes sense. But I wanted more for both of these girls than the world they were born into, the world that wasn’t for them. I wanted more for her than (spoiler alert) boy that got her hopes up about being academically recognized and doesn’t follow through. I don’t know how I’d survive in a world that didn’t have a place for my strengths.
So about the cover. Other sources suggest that the covers were chosen to look ‘domestic’ because Ferrarante wanted to suggest that the details of domestic women’s lives are important as a literary topic. She was hiding relevant/resonant material in covers that made it look the opposite. She was being ironic. She was pointing out my condescending attitude toward books geared at women, which I already demonstrated with my previous paragraph regarding cover no fly zones. The cover eventually didn’t deter me due to the intrigue surrounding the covers and her secret identity, and because I knew they were highly rated and regarded. The contents promised to outshine the trappings, and they did. And a brief perusal of the other covers shows me that that first cover, that first face smack, is still the worst of the series.
This won’t change my reliance on a good cover. Or my attraction to a book based on the cover. I have a hard time turning away something darkly magical. Some people wrote that they still haven’t made it past the covers. But I did. I made it. And I ached for the characters in this depressing novel. And I’m sure this was Ms. Ferrarante’s goal.
Another BookRiot post is coming up next, but there has been a list drafted of my creepy read downs for the impending fall. And it’s not fall yet, lest anyone think that Sept 1 signals the acceptability of pumpkin coffees, because it does not.
I am ready for another creepy season without having to buy any books, insert wide eye emoji here.
Plus noveling continues. More about that at some point.