Updated: Aug 13, 2020
You'll feel better
Lily King’s new novel, Writers & Lovers is the story of a Casey Peabody, a 31-year-old woman who has been working on a novel for six years. She supports herself by waitressing at a high-end restaurant near Harvard while she lives in a dumpy little room off of a garage owned by her brother’s friend.
Casey refuses to give up her dream. She writes every morning and in all her spare moments. She has no money because everything she earns is going to pay off her student loans, now skyrocketing with penalties that make her debt so high she can’t even think past it. In fact, the opening line of the book is,
“I have a pact with myself not to think about money in the morning.”
The book centers around Casey’s struggles as she tries to balance work with writing, the lack of money with the need to live, and emotional health with devastating grief.
The grief comes from a broken love relationship and the sudden death of her 59-year- old mother who died unexpectedly while on a vacation to Cuba.
Women & Grief
While King’s book is titled Writers & Lovers, it could have easily been subtitled Women and Grief.
Anyone who has ever suffered a loss feels the pain and poignancy of Casey’s grief. Lily King creates powerful passages depicting the behavior of bereaved people at different stages of the grieving process. One particularly acute passage depicts how it feels to want to call the dead person — before remembering they won’t be there to answer:
“…right on the heels of that feeling, that suspicion that all is not yet lost, comes the urge to tell my mother, tell her that I am okay today, that I have felt something close to happiness, that I might still be capable of feeling happy. She will want to know that. But I can’t tell her. That’s the wall I always slam into on a good morning like this. My mother will be worrying about me, and I can’t tell her that I’m okay.”
“I’m in the mood to call my mother, that happy, shift in the wind mood. I calaculate the time in Phoenix. Nearly noon. Perfect. The bolt retracts, and I remember she died.”
As Casey comes to terms with her mother’s death, she does all the things that people who are grieving often do:
she remembers how good it felt to have her mother to talk to
she thinks about what her mother was like when Casey was growing up:
“her lemon smell and her gardening gloves with the rubber bumps and her small square toes that cracked when she walked barefoot.”
she throws herself into work because it keeps her from remembering her pain
she can’t concentrate on her writing
she doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror because what she sees is a tired, sad person
Throw two totally different men into the mix, both writers, and watch Casey’s life get even crazier. Oscar is a successful writer already, widowed with two young boys. Silas is an English teacher writer dealing with his sister’s death. Oscar pursues. Silas eludes.
Add to Casey’s life big-time problems: management changes at work, health worries, the loss of her one-room apartment, and the frequent rejection of her novel. She struggles with despair and panic attacks.
Waitresses & Writers
In addition to waitresses — who will totally get the hectic hassle of Casey’s work and who will understand the jargon of the restaurant world — writers will relate to Casey’s story and the and emotions resulting from the pursuit of a creative life.
Writers understand Casey’s determination. We relate to her comments, like when she says that writing helps her channel her schizophrenic potential. She jokes about the difference in author photos on book covers: the men look threatening and tortured while the women look friendly and accessible. Self-doubt gnaws,
“I can’t find one moment, one sentence, that’s any good.”
And her list of agent rejections are exactly the same as my list:
While we admire the scope…
This is not quite right for…
Thank you for your submission, but….(the list goes on and on).
English teachers and writers will certainly smile at the literary allusions contained subtly within the lines, from a reference to a “barbaric yawp,” to a note from one of her lovers about the plums in the icebox. People who love to read will identify the motif of geese and bees used throughout, and cheer at several well-placed lines that make those motifs meaningful.
But you don’t have to be a teacher, a writer, a waitress, or a grieving woman to appreciate this novel
If you like rooting for the underdog…
If you feel like your life is falling apart…
If you believe that dreams are worth fighting for…
Read Lily King’s Writers & Lovers. I guarantee that you’ll feel better.
Buy it from Amazon.
Buy it from Bookshop.org.