Review of Jessica Knoll’s “Luckiest Girl Alive,” & Interview with author Jessica Knoll

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     Interview with the writer, Jessica Knoll, can be found right below this review, due to the fact one of the questions contains a spoiler warning.  

Review:

Sometimes you select a book based entirely on its premise alone,while sometimes you’re succored by the promotional statement emblazoned on the press-release that boldly states that “it is like Gone Girl” or something to that effect. Having never read Gone Girl but wanting to read it someday (knowing it has a premise that always sounded really interesting to me), I probably went into reading this book under the wrong pretenses, but thankfully I had never read Gone Girl to be able to make any clear-headed comparisons between both books. Anyhow, it is best  to eschew any and all preconceived notions you may have about this book, even your very first impressions from the first 20 or so pages that are so carefully written as a trick of sharply-written “narrator duality.” It’s essentially an illusion of character, and it’s done so well that I hate even having to bring up here in this review. It catches you off-guard so much, and I want to be as discreet as possible in order not to further destroy the well-placed suspense in this story.

    Tifani and Ani  (two identites of the main character/main perspective of the story) are one and the same; one exists in a fragile, psychoanalytic hall of mirrors during the fragmented, melodramatic, confused-identity crisis days of being a teenager. Another exists in the present scene of the novel, where the reader from the beginning is under the impression that she is a very successful writer and woman, someone bound to have the blissful American Dream. Yet the present scene cracks, and we get a story that quite literally hops into a psychological rabbit hole. This is where the story gets extremely interesting, and Ani is a truly complex, flawed female character, who has defects and strengths, but she is never presented as some icon of perfection. Having read some books where the female character exists as a figure, emblematic of a certain one-dimensional notion of female strength (a human being, devoid of flaws), it was extremely refreshing to read someone that has a callous, sometimes narcissistic personality, yet is a human being that has been injured by a dark, twisted past. And both these personalities of the main character, enhanced by her internal complexions, play out in a rich, complicated way throughout many of the exciting, heart-pounding pages of this very well-written psychological thriller.

There is an abundant amount of things to say, and while the writing hits a snag at the beginning with unclear direction of where it it going to go. This intentional confusion of character, in the beginning, becomes more clear as you read on, in that the intended meandering style of the narrator’s tone  in the present time of the novel’s events is actually purposefully fraught with anxiety and torment over the character’s dark past. This dark past gets explored in visceral depth, and the way the final revelation of the deepest source of pain and regret plays out ultimately in the end is refreshing and masterful. Throughout all of it, Ani/Tifani remains beautifully imperfect, in that her defects and foibles of character make her into someone that is truly three-dimensional. You don’t always love her, sometimes you have viscous doubts about her as a character, in the same way a frustratingly difficult character in a Thomas Hardy book might make you feel like you’re arguing at times with the character.

Many of the side characters are just as well-developed too, in that they’re characters, versus caricatures, that all have depth, but most importantly, an ample amount of realistic flaws. It’s these flaws that truly make this a worthwhile read, and I actually ended up greatly loving and admiring Ani’s spunk, snark, wit, all spun up in a tangled web of past regrets, misgivings, and yet all these facets of her character are covered with that smooth, deceptively self-assured layer of brash egotism, which again all adds up to a character that you cannot help but find deeply fascinating. She is the type of female character I want to read more about. In a sense, this story serves as a symbol of true progression in the growth and evolution of female characters, in that Ani is allowed to be flawed, sometimes unlikable, without treading on her depth.

As a psychological thriller, Luckiest Girl Alive is an intense, beautifully-written dark fable of the dark side of the human psyche, and the way deeply traumatic events in our lives render us deeply injured or hurt in some way, for a long span of time. Sometimes part of the healing is more complex than simply letting it go, as our minds are always mired in past regrets. We live with the past and present, intertwined within us at all times. We have to learn to live with this strange paradox, and sometimes having the past/present live within ourselves, with its undeniable history of pain,sorrow, and moments of happiness, can make us feel like we are of “two,divided personalities,” much like Ani within this story.

Incorporating the  suspenseful mastery and macabre psychodrama of an Edgar Allen Poe story while  dressed up with the sleekness and brazen spunk of a modern thriller, Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive is a true page-turner, which will have you reading while neglecting your surroundings for the time spent, racing through this book, and beholding its alluring, though dark truths about the human psyche. I cannot wait to read more from this very impressive, skilled novelist!

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR JESSICA KNOLL:

Key for Initials- BR-Bibliophile’s Reverie ;JK-Jessica Knoll

SPOILER ALERT: There is a spoiler warning/advisory for question five below. You may want to read only through questions #1-4, and question 6, if you’re planning to read this book. If you don’t mind the spoiler, you are free to read the question of course, but know that you’ve been warned about being spoiled!

1. BR:I always start with the most conventional question first. What inspired, or really impassioned, you to write this book?

JK: I have always wanted to write a novel, but I wanted whatever I wrote to really land in the cultural conversation. I didn’t feel I had much to say until I turned twenty-eight and suddenly felt an enormous pressure to get engaged, as though there was something wrong with me that it hadn’t happened yet. No matter I was a senior editor at Cosmopolitan and had made it in New York City—I felt like a failure for not having a ring on my finger too. I found there was a real disconnect between the “Lean In” message we were pushing at Cosmo and how I felt about my personal life, and I know many of my friends felt the same way.

From there I started to craft this idea for a story about a girl who feels she really needs marriage—and to a guy from a family like Luke Harrison—as a sort of solvent for her past. So what happened to her in her past? What was this reputation she was trying so desperately to scrub? I built out the plot from there.

2. BR: When you start reading, you are immediately caught off guard by a spunky, derisive, even nonchalant tone to the main character of “Ani,” that you think this will be the dominant voice for the novel, but it isn’t. How did you consciously make the decision, as to where to slowly switch gears, in terms of her voice?

JK: It wasn’t conscious at all, though I’m happy that transition comes across. It happened organically once I really got into the trenches with Ani—recounting the trauma and pain she had been through naturally triggered a more broken, desperate voice than the one I started out with, when Ani was still on top of her game.

3. BR:Speaking of the duality of the main character’s voice, what about the duality of a person’s psyche makes it so an enduring, interesting subject for thriller novels of this kind?

JK:For me, the most interesting duality is in who we are to the people around us and who we really are deep down. I think it’s something a lot of women can relate to—that you are all these different things to different people, you swap your hat depending on who you are with, and sometimes our true, authentic voice gets lost in that shuffle. I wanted to really illustrate how pronounced that dissonance is for Ani, and what happens when that chasm widens so much that you have no other choice but to snap.

4. BR:Surprisingly, I actually reside in the suburbs of Philly, and have lived here for awhile, so it was really neat to read about “the Main Line” while reading this book. I mean, some of the towns mentioned are places I pass on the train twice a week, when heading to class. Why did you choose this area as the setting for the main action of the novel? Was it hard to piece together memories of this area from your mind, as you wrote?

JK: I drew a lot from my own life in writing this novel, and I grew up slightly outside of the Main Line (in Chester Springs) but I attended The Shipley School, in Bryn Mawr. I wasn’t as much an obvious outlier the way Ani was, but I also didn’t come from old money the way many of my peers did. That distinction wasn’t as clear to me at the time, but as an adult, I can look back and see it now. It seemed like a really interesting dynamic to emphasize in the book—girl from the wrong side of the tracks lands in a tony private school—and one that people have a strong emotional response to. Everyone loves the story about the new girl from the boonies making her way in the big city! The Main Line just served as Ani’s big city.

Spoiler Warning Ahead: For those planning on reading this book, please skip forward to question six, if you wish not to have a crucial part of the story spoiled. It may be wise to refrain from reading the below section, until you’ve finished reading this awesome book. Thanks!

5. BR:For many of the psychological phenomenons in the novel, there was clear evidence you did some research to make sure the information was accurate. Can you describe the most interesting bit about the research process behind the novel?

JK:I read Columbine by Dave Cullen. It was so informative and eye-opening that I even thanked him in my acknowledgements. I had no idea that the media had gotten the story of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold so wrong. They were not bullied, they were not unpopular rejects, and Columbine was never planned as a school shooting. They were well-liked guys who came from loving families and had plenty of friends—they attended prom, and reportedly had a great time, the weekend before they attacked their school! Additionally, their goal was to commit a terrorist attack—not a school shooting. They revered Timothy McVeigh and had the bombs they placed in the cafeteria detonated, the death toll would have topped nearly 1,000, which, at the time, would have been deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, as it was pre-9/11.

6). BR: I really enjoyed this book, so I hope others that read this blog will check it out. Do you have a message for the devoted readers of A Bibliophile’s Reverie?

JK:Thank you! I would just say that I hope for you to give Ani a chance. There is a reason for her sharp edges, and it’s not just because she’s been through a shocking and horrific ordeal as an adolescent. Ani is part of a generation of women who have been trained to think that “having it all”— the career, the man, the perfect body, etc.—is the recipe for happiness. It’s an enormous amount of pressure to be under, and it can be terrifying to discover that you’ve done all the “right” things and yet you’re miserable. Ani is trying to sort out how she can chart her own course when you first meet her, and she does get there.

Also, I’ll add that she’s funny. Viciously funny, but funny nonetheless. I think some people may not see her that way, but she’s definitely got a wicked sense of humor if you allow yourself to see it!

Thank you to Jessica Knoll for taking the time to answer the following questions for this blog feature! 🙂

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