Rating: 3.5 out of 5⭐️
Title: Writers & Lovers: A Novel
Author: Lily King
Published: 2020 (Grove Press)
Pages: 324 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Romantic
CW: sexual content, cancer, pedophilia, assault, adult situations
Hi all! This week I read a book that was not-so-spooky. Writers & Lovers has caused a lot of hype in the book community since its release, and I’ve seen so many reviews for this novel online. Already a celebrated author, Lily King really hit me in the gut in numerous ways with her humorous and fractured protagonist in Writers & Lovers. And fair warning – I have a lot to say about this one.
“I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
The novel centers around 31-year-old writer and former golf prodigy, Casey Peabody, a woman down on her luck after a failed romance, piling student loan debt she cannot pay off, and losing her mother. Casey moves back to her hometown in Massachusetts to start over somewhere familiar, and finish her novel. The reader divulges into the nook-and-cranny aspects of Casey’s life, along with her heartache, ambitions and conflicts. Casey is a highly relatable character, who honestly made every other section of this novel a punch in the gut if you’ve ever been a woman who lost direction in life, lost a relative/friend, been through a horrible breakup, assaulted in any way or just been through any emotional crisis at all. The reader follows Casey’s journey while she writes her novel, and the relationships she has on the way during the summer of 1997.
“There’s a particular feeling in your body when something goes right after a long time of things going wrong. It feels warm and sweet and loose… For a moment all my bees have turned to honey” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
I definitely did not love this novel as much as others. For how amiable I seem towards it, I was really unsure of both this book and myself as I put it down after finishing. The writing was definitely well-done, and almost poetic at times. But I almost thought it was a bit pretentious, not just with the main character, but her community as well. I probably would have given it a higher rating if it hadn’t been so, and also if it had flowed better in real emotion. Maybe the pretentiousness was purposefully done, to show us how the literary community actually interacts and treats each other, and I understood that at times. The characters just seemed so privileged and tedious, including the main character even though I know she went through horrible traumas, and no one of note was down to earth about literally anything whatsoever. Casey is either complaining about not having money or about others who have money/status/fame for a majority of the novel, but my question is: how was she able to live in Spain, and travel all around the world throughout her 20s? There had to have been some money somewhere. I know she pulled out loans for school, but I’m sorry, if you had the time/ability to get an Bachelor of Arts and a MFA in Creative Writing, and sit in cafes talking to other writers a lot of your time when you weren’t waitressing, you’re not that underprivileged. But I leave the possibility open that I may not have understood something about her situation. How can I better summarize this book? It was like Girls (the HBO series created by Lena Dunham) meets Kicking & Screaming (1995 indie film), but was written by Nora Ephron.
“I squat there and think about how how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
This novel was full of familiar tropes and situations, but King’s style of storytelling and prose was refreshing and humorous. Despite my negative comments before, I did enjoy reading this novel, and my heart ached at times during some of Casey’s experiences. I found some aspects of her romances and debt experiences almost painfully too familiar. Plus, the experiences of working in the food industry such as waitressing were on par… even in the 90s when this story takes place. And the summarization of the misogyny problem among male writers in the literary community was also spot on.
“Nearly every guy I’ve dated believed they should already be famous, believed that greatness was their destiny and they were already behind schedule. An early moment of intimacy often involved a confession of this sort: a childhood vision, teacher’s prophesy, a genius IQ …. Later, I thought I was just choosing delusional men. Now I understand it’s how boys are raised to think, how they are lured into adulthood. I’ve met ambitious women, driven women, but no woman has ever told me that greatness was her destiny” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
Like I said, I would have given this novel 4 stars, but the pretentiousness made me question how much I was actually enjoying it. It was like a charming, privileged New American Colonial setting meets psychological and societal problems among ‘failure to launch’ Gen-X’ers. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m so critical of this novel, because it’s not like I haven’t read books with privileged characters before. But anyways, I found this novel highly quotable with enjoyable quips (can you tell by how many quotes I included in this review?). I also loved the prose and conversations between characters, except for Casey and Silas… That relationship I’m still questioning even as I write this. I won’t say why, because I do not want to give away spoilers.
“I hate male cowardice and the way they always have each other’s backs. They have no control. They justify everything their dicks make them do. And they get away with it. Nearly every time. My father peered through a hole at girls, possibly at me, in our locker room. And when he got caught, he got a party and a cake” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy contemporary, literary fiction about Gen-X’er writers who are down on their luck, among their romantic escapades, this is the book for you. This book was in fact about writers and lovers. On a side note, I had to listen to my 90s alternative, indie rock playlist as I wrote this review. Looking back now, this is one of my lengthier reviews… maybe I thought higher of this book than I evaluated?
I give this a 3.5 out of 5! (Still super conflicted about my rating)