Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: The Regulars

By Jami Deise

One of the many criticisms against chick lit is that it’s sexist. Yes, critics argue, the protagonists are female, but they are women singularly focused on getting a man and a good deal on shoes. And sometimes, unfortunately, these critics are right. So when a book comes out with a pink cover sporting lipstick prints, it’s easy to dismiss it as just another novel featuring women obsessed with men. But when it comes to YA author Georgia Clark’s first adult novel, The Regulars, that dismissal would be a mistake. More than one reviewer has called it a “feminist fairy tale,” but it’s deeper than that. After all, fairy tales end with “happily ever after” – the girl marrying her prince. The women in The Regulars have dreams much bigger than that.

First of all, there’s the whole “man” thing. Although The Regulars features three point-of-view characters, idealistic copy editor Evie Selby is the heart of the book – and her heart belongs to women, not men. (She self-describes as bi-sexual, but exclusively dates women.) Reading about Evie was like being given a gift you didn’t know you needed until someone handed it to you. I had no idea that I needed to read women’s fiction featuring a woman who loved other women until I met Evie. As a straight woman, it never occurred to me that I needed these characters (and these writers) in my life until I read this book, but I do. Evie is an outspoken feminist, but she’s trapped at a magazine called Salty, which treats its readership as only interested in the aforementioned boys and shoes. Her best friends are Krista, whose Indian parents are aghast at her decision to drop out of law school to become an actress, and photographer Willow, daughter of a famous director trying to break out of his shadow.

All three women are New York City denizens in their early twenties, and are deeply insecure about everything in their lives, but mostly about their looks. Reading about these insecurities, from the vantage point of an almost 50-something woman who battled and overcame many (but not all) of these same doubts, was exquisitely painful. Oh, to be 25 again, with the knowledge of the strength and wisdom that comes with age, but still in that youthful, energetic body. Like a fairy godmother, an old improv classmate of Krista’s – who suddenly looks so good, Krista can’t recognize her – swoops in with a solution. It’s a bottle of purple liquid called Pretty. When the girls put a drop on their tongues, they each become quickly, violently ill. And then they turn into supermodels. But only for a week.

With such a plot, The Regulars would seem to fall into the story type called “Be careful what you wish for …. You just might get it!” But this novel is a bit more complicated than that. Right away, the young women realize they might be putting their health in jeopardy if they continue to take the Pretty. And being that beautiful opens some doors, but it closes others. None of the women had been treated like bimbos before, with people assuming anyone that beautiful must be an idiot. Evie, in particular, tries to use her looks to get a platform for her feminist views by hosting a Salty web series, but her insightful questions and commentary are edited out in favor of dildo jokes. And their supermodel looks feed into Krista and Willow’s professional insecurities, rather than helping to tame them. (Krista’s unprofessional behavior also holds her back. She’s the least likeable of the three.) As the women make romantic and professional connections in their supermodel bodies and names, they are forced to decide whether they’ll continue to jeopardize their health by living in fake bodies, or jeopardize their new relationships and successes by reverting to their old form. The confidence gained by living in these supermodel bodies is quickly superseded by more complicated emotions.

Many plot-driven books give short shift to character work, but the characters in The Regulars are incredibly fleshed out. With a small cast, everyone on screen plays an important role, and Evie, Krista and Willow all have strong, specific voices, gifts and flaws. The supporting characters – each woman has love interests and work foils – are just as well-drawn.

The Regulars is a type of fairy tale, but for women who want to be queen rather than marry the prince. With a concept so specific and familiar, the plot points are predictable but never boring. My one quibble is with the ending, which seemed a little too neat for a book that eagerly delved into complex emotional conundrums. It’s a very small flaw for an otherwise diamond of a book. I hope writing adult fiction becomes a “regular” thing for YA author Georgia Clark.

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review.


Janine said...

Great review

Cher B said...

What a fantastic, detailed review! My to-be-read list is now another book longer.