Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Review: Ask Again Later

By Gail Allison
Abrupt. Perplexing. Full of unexpected twists and turns. Never really comfortable, but somehow still compelling. “Ask Again Later” by Jill A. Davis fits the bill for each and every one of these descriptions. It’s probably the most curious chick lit book that I’ve ever read: a series of short chapters that on their own each feel like a small essay, but somehow fit together soundly once the book is over. The end of this book is really the only point at which you can look back at it and realize the journey that it took you on. While you’re in the moment, though, this book is choppy and gritty and never really at ease, but something in it makes you keep turning to the next page. And the next. And the next.

Emily Rhodes keeps herself well-protected. She’s never allowed anyone to get too close to her since her father left when she was five years old. She knows the story that her mom told her: her father was scared of commitment, he had numerous girlfriends, and eventually it got to be too much pressure for the young family, which blew apart catastrophically. Emily hasn’t been in contact with her father for a number of years, she’s keeping all her relationships at arm’s length, and she cocoons herself in her work...until she gets a phone call from her mother. Her breaking point is reached when her mother phones her one day to announce that she is dying. This is the catalyst that causes Emily to make some serious changes in her life.

In rapid succession she quits her job as a lawyer, breaks up with the man that she’s helplessly in love with, and races to her mother’s side only to learn that this (as with the majority of her mother’s statements) has been blown out of proportion. Yes, they found a lump in her mother’s breast. Yes, she needs to have a lumpectomy and ensuing radiation. However, the lump is the size of a pea, and it’s in stage one. Emily's mother is expected by everyone to make a full recovery, but that doesn’t stop her from phoning everyone in her rolodex, including Emily’s estranged father, to inform them that she is dying, and basically playing the part of the victim to the hilt. Emily tries to look to her sister for consolation, but finds that she’s so wrapped up in her life and playing the part of the Park Avenue princess that she can’t be counted on to support herself, much less Emily. When Emily’s father offers her a job working as a receptionist at his law firm, she accepts, and gradually begins to open up to him and, ultimately, to everyone around her. The mother and the sister were two characters that might have been developed a little bit more fully, in my opinion. They both seemed to play fairly one-dimensional roles of self-obsession. Had this been done, though, we may not have noticed Emily's slow growth quite as prevalently.

Even though it’s a short novel, this is not an easy read. The choppiness and quick turns make you want to put it down, but once the storyline starts to weave together, you want it to keep going. The startling revelations that Emily gets hit with throughout the book provide almost palpable adrenaline jolts that make you wonder how many things you don’t actually know about your own family. All the way through this novel, Emily slowly grows and evolves as a person. Her growth is demonstrated through the conversations that she has with her therapist.

If I can compare this book to a television program, this would be the "Intervention" of chick lit. It's written so realistically that it feels like you're exploring someone else's life, and finding out that appearances and reality generally don’t dovetail quite as nicely as we’d like them to. Again, the jerky style of writing, the condensed chapters, and the sharp turns that this book takes are just too prevalent for me to call it ‘fun’. I think the best word that could even attempt to describe “Ask Again Later” is ‘interesting’. And even that word doesn't do this book justice. If you want to be forced out of your comfort zone, weirdly compelled to keep reading, and if you feel ready to address your own questions and issues while watching someone else deal with theirs, pick up a copy of this book. It will hand you all that, and more.


caarole said...

It seems like a good book to read, I like stories that deal with other peoples problems for somteimes they can help with yours or that your problems aren't so big, they can also help you to see the bigger picture. I know its a just a story but sometimes it can help you with your own troubles,at least forget them for awhile.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like Jill A. Davis sticks to well-written heavy-emotional storylines in her latest novel, "Ask Again Later," much like she did in her previous book, "Girls' Night Poker," which I absolutely loved. I enjoyed your review, Gail. It's on my TBR.