The Weirdest Part Is It Wasn't Weird
Title: The Guest List
Author: Lucy Foley
Released: June 2020
Publisher: William Morrow
Yeats ago, I ‘liked’ something Leigh Stein re-posted from Roxane Gay on the barren wasteland of social media known as Tumblr. It stated:
How to Be a Contemporary Writer
1. Read diversely.
3. See items 1 and 2.
The listed went on to add another dozen and a half items, but 1 & 2 stood out the most to me. Mainly because I felt like I’d been given permission to read whatever I wanted. For the last seven years I have mainly read more literary fiction, or indie fiction, and I stopped reading popular, commercial, best seller style writing.
With the inception of this monthly newsletter, I have read more this year than I have read in the last 3 years, and, I’ve been reading books that I’d normally overlook otherwise, I’ve been reading books I haven’t written about in Booxtape, I’ve been reading almost every day. I couldn’t wait to get to July because I had a couple vacations planned and I wanted nothing more than to get cozy with some books I haven’t read in nearly a decade— beach reads.
The first real beach read I remember devouring was Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. It was published when I was in my very early 20’s and I know I read it on vacation at the Jersey shore, probably at a Cape May beach house my parents rented. It was a hardcover copy— I still have it. That book has traveled 20 years and ten different addresses with me. I haven’t read it in years but as I type this I’m tempted to read it when I get home and I have some time before I select a book for August’s newsletter.
I listened to a podcast where an author was interviewed (I think it was when Ottessa Moshfegh was on the Other People podcast) and she was saying that writing a book that was described as “a page turner” or something someone “couldn’t put down” was a kiss of death to a serious writer (again, I am paraphrasing, and Ottessa may not have been the person who said this, though I think she was). And I agreed with her, mainly because as someone with a lot of opinions about writing (and no experiencing with finishing or publishing a novel) I would rather write something regarded as great than write something regarded as popular. Take Melissa Broder for example. Her poems? Beautiful. Her novels? Bad soft core porn. No thank you.
I’m off track. The Pisces by Melissa Broder isn’t necessarily a beach read, although it reads like one. And I’m not even trying to say beach reads are bad— they’re not. I have read three this month. I forgot how good they are. My point is, I can be a little snobby when it comes to my book choices, or, for my choices not to read certain things. But this year, this month especially, I am disregarding all of that. Because it doesn’t matter, I want to read more diversely, nobody really cares what I read, being elitist about reading choices is arrogant and pointless, and I have had such a delightful time reading all my beach reads this month.
I heard about The Guest List earlier this year, my girlfriend Sam mentioned that she’d read it after her 17 year old daughter urged her to. Sam said the novel had “a huge twist,” so I put it in my Amazon cart. I ended up buying it used a few weeks ago, along with:
28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
I read this mid-summer vacation when I spent a week on the North Fork with my brother’s family, my parents, and my sister and her family. It was… perfect. A character driven rom-com in 400 pages that I savored.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
I’m actually reading this now, re-reading actually. I read it in 2009 and liked it a lot, I am re-reading it this week on vacation in Maine with Steve and our son, and I like it more than I did 8 years ago, though the main character is maddening. This may be my August pick, it may not be.
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
I have tried to start this twice, and I can’t even get past the first page, so this baby may be going in the trash. We’ll see.
Last but not least, I got The Guest List.
I read this one first, a few weeks ago, at the beginning of my family beach vacation on the North Fork. My husband wasn’t with me, he didn’t take time off for the family vacation when we had this trip to Maine planned so closely after, so I was alone a lot and I read this book in two days. I was very curious about the big twist my friend had mentioned to me— why I do not know. I usually figure out twists in movies and tv shows pretty early on, but for whatever reason my interest was piqued for this novel’s twist.
Last year, I read exactly three books (Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, excellent, The Two Kinds of Decay by the impeccable Sarah Manguso, also excellent, and Good Morning Destroyer of Men’s Souls by Nina Renata Aron which was really good) and when I wasn’t reading (I couldn’t!) I was doing what the rest of the world was doing— surviving a pandemic and avoiding a virus that wasn’t going away. So when 2021 rolled around, I started this newsletter, I began reading almost daily, and I relished the idea of reading some books I’d been wanting to read for awhile, but also, reading some fluff.
This book is fluff.
It’s not bad though. It wasn’t expertly written— there are a tremendous amount of throw away descriptive sentences that should have been cut. Most of the characters are insufferable, I sense they’re supposed to be. Everyone’s a suspect in the murder that’s announced in the novel’s prologue.
What stuck out the most of to me when reading this book was the setting. The story takes place on a remote, rainy island off the coast of Ireland. The island has a restored medieval castle on it (annoyingly referred to throughout the book as ‘the Folly’) and the plot centers around a wedding weekend on the island, at the castle. The bride, the groom, their friends, their family, the wedding planner all have POV chapters. Someone (we don’t know who until the end) is killed, and since so many characters are filled with secrets and something to hide, anyone could be the killer, anyone could be dead.
You could feel the dampness of the castle, you could tell that it was dark and remote. The island was written about in lush detail— the bog, the caves, the cliffs, the castle, the grounds. The setting of the novel held the plot together quite well.
About a third of the way through the book, I didn’t know who was killed or who the killer was, but I figured out the twist. I won’t spoil anything, but, when a main character was described as the exact opposite of the way two other characters described a heinous ex-boyfriend, it seemed obvious to me that a person from some of the wedding guests past was actually quite present on the island, and not who they appeared to be. It was a pretty good twist, but obvious. What do you expect. The second twist I also figured out, although not right away. I pieced it together every time the author laid out the breadcrumbs of her slow reveal on the motive behind the killer’s crime. Again, this book isn’t too deep. And I’m psyched that I got to remember while reading it that a book can still be really enjoyable even if it’s not super literary.
I was going to write entire passages in this month’s letter about my instincts, my development in refining them, listening to my gut, and somehow try to tie it into me figuring out this books twist, but, I’ll save those confessions for another time. I don’t feel like trying to make The Guest List deeper than it is. Read it, or something like it, just for fun.
Check out some of the summer reads recommended by my friend and fellow writer Hurley Winkler on her most recent post on Lonely Victories
Listen to this months playlist which is full of songs that played during the cocktail and dance floor hours of my wedding
Or check out the sales page of my upcoming workshop Exaholics
Exaholics will launch right after Labor Day, and anyone who signs up for the waiting list will receive 24 hours notice of the pre-sale price! Pre-sale for the workshop will be $60 off the regular full price of the workshop ($89 instead of $149!)
Thanks for reading this month.
Until August, xoxo