Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Blogger Book Review: Something Blue

By Miriam Plotinsky

Most women are notoriously complex creatures, much to the dismay of our male counterparts. We are, as the song says, “a little bit of everything all rolled into one.” So when a writer comes along who is adept at uncovering the nuanced layers of the female psyche rather than offering up a black-and-white portrayal of insipid shallowness, we treasure her work. Emily Giffin is such a writer. She refuses to see her characters as Disney-esque forces of good or evil. Rather, she succeeds in making them painfully human.

In "Something Blue," the follow-up to Giffin’s "Something Borrowed," we are once again faced with Darcy Rhone, a selfish and hyper-competitive shrew who is every girl’s nightmare. Those of us who identify with Rachel, Darcy’s ex-best friend and all-around good girl (who, with Giffin’s trademark line-blurring, has an affair with Darcy’s fiancĂ© in the first book), take perverse pleasure in Darcy’s flaws. Despite her good looks, she’s highly insecure, mainly because of a self-perceived lack of intelligence. Darcy has always been the prettiest girl in any room, one who immediately judges other women based on their beauty in relation to hers. But aside from what’s on the surface, Darcy has very little confidence, and her sense of self is thrown into even greater turmoil when she realizes, early in the book, that her ex-fiancĂ© has fallen effortlessly in love with Rachel, who is far less pretty than Darcy, but has much more going for her.

The realization that she can’t have whatever she wants coupled with a thoughtless pregnancy sends Darcy into a downward spiral that destroys her relationships with those closest to her, namely her baby’s father and her own parents. Desperate and alone, and no longer the most desirable catch on the New York dating scene thanks to a growing baby bump, Darcy runs away to London to live with her childhood friend Ethan, a man of substance who is highly wary of any involvement Darcy might have in his life. He is, among other complications, best friends with Rachel, who Darcy has treated like dirt since they were five, and he also takes pleasure in art and culture, while Darcy’s favorite form of entertainment is blowing her rapidly dwindling funds on expensive clothes at Harvey Nichols. As Ethan watches Darcy compromise her pregnancy by continuing to drink alcohol in copious amounts as she pretends that the life growing inside her is hypothetical, his disgust for her increases to such a large degree that we, too, begin to lose patience with Darcy’s disregard for her baby and herself.

However, after a beautifully written rant in which Ethan honestly yet harshly maligns Darcy’s many faults to her face, all of the good qualities that were initially scratching the surface in her character, like her loyalty to her friends or her scrappy determination to be the best version of herself, start to rise to prominence. While Darcy’s transformation is too quick and too thorough to be absolutely believable, it is appealing. All of us have a Darcy within us in the aspects of ourselves that we’re too ashamed to think about or admit to. Seeing her change is not only satisfying for the sake of the book’s plot; it also gives us hope that we, too, can strive for better and heal the wrongs we’ve done, only to emerge triumphant in the end.

Ultimately, we want to know if Darcy and Rachel will ever be friends again, a delicate question that Giffin handles with dexterity. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Rachel has committed an absolute wrong against Darcy, and as the reader becomes increasingly empathetic of Darcy’s plight, we feel both her pain and Rachel’s as they try to mend what may be a permanently broken friendship. Both that part of the plot, as well as the growing relationship between Ethan and Darcy, mark the book’s finest moments. Though the novel may appear from the outset to be about Darcy’s search for true love, it is really about friendship and what makes people stay in one another’s lives even after seemingly insurmountable betrayals occur.

After all, Giffin is an expert at exploring those gray areas. She knows that no person is all of one thing, and the fact that she can make her readers love Darcy by the book’s end is proof of her skill. Even more impressive is that even after Darcy changes, we feel a partial sense of longing for the old Darcy to come back, the one who’s obsessed with keeping her Jimmy Choos clean in the rain while forgetting herself enough to completely destroy a Chaiken sundress in another bout of rain, just to have sinful sex. It’s these realistic contradictions in her character that ultimately make Something Blue not just a riveting sequel, but a superior follow-up to its predecessor. Rachel is all of us, an everywoman, and we identify with her, but that makes her a little boring. Darcy is who we could be if we were bolder and took more risks, and in the end, she’s the one we want to read about.

Miriam Plotinsky is an English and creative writing teacher. She lives in the DC/Metro area with her husband and three kids, who occasionally give her the time she needs to write and eat sushi. She is also our runner-up from the review associate contest (a.k.a. The CLC Project), and this was her entry.

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