"An Anonymous Girl" by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
As they approach the precipice that definitively separated adolescence from adulthood, some people aspire to glamorous careers.
They want to be actors or models or professional athletes...or writers.
Often, they are so sure of their future success — so unafraid of starving to death or falling destitute and being forced to live in some urban gutter with only the Ninja Turtles as company — that they fully commit to this dream. They leave behind the safety of their rural hometowns or cozy and convenient suburbs and moving to a dense, bustling, urban area.
Unlike these confident youths, I was decidedly more trepidatious as I peered over that steep cliff and looked down at the exceedingly rocky shore of independence.
As I approached new adulthood, I was certain of one only thing — my inability to succeed in a highly competitive field.
Sure, I had a stellar academic track record to recommend me, but competition had never been my strength.
Of particular note was my ineptitude in the field of athletics.
I never won.
Not a gym-class soccer game.
Not a recess footrace.
Not so much as a fucking thumb war.
And it was probably because of my gold-star record as a professional loser that I decided on an innocuous, secure career in education.
That option felt… comfortable… straightforward… achievable.
I felt safe in my plan to move back to my affluent(ish) suburb and burn through my days on this planet teaching disinterested students how to properly conjugate the “be” verb.
Since making this pretty-fucking-important decision, there have been times I have questioned my choice.
Maybe if I'd majored in creative writing instead — or if I had just womaned up and moved to New York or London or anywhere with a literary scene — maybe I would have found success more quickly. If I’d just been a little bit brave and a little bit less analytical, I would have been younger when I began earning money writing — which is the only thing I've ever really wanted to do.
Coincidentally, I had actually been in a cycle of thinking about this very thing when I read this book.
And as I set down the finished novel and took a deep breath I thought...
“Nah. I made a good choice. I'm happy with my choice.”
Why the suddenly definitive feeling of validation nearly two-fucking-decades since I selected which of the two paths that diverged in the wood I would take?
Because the protagonist of this novel, Jessica, choose the other one.
And it didn’t work out all that well for her.
Unlike yours truly, Jessica Farris aspired to something, if not great, at least fancy. She wanted to work on Broadway as a makeup artist.
Equipped with both skills and confidence, she moved to the city and had a go at it.
And she was successful… for a time.
But, as the book opens, she’s in a slump. She’s working as a traveling makeup artist for Beauty Buzz, schlepping all over New York City and doing up the faces of housewives or socialites or — as is the case of the client at the start of this novel — spoiled college girls who are just going to get drunk and cry in the bathroom anyways, so shouldn’t really even both with contouring.
When Jessica is on this work assignment she, by happenstance, finds out about a paid study in which the girl whose makeup she is so expertly applying is supposed to participate in the morning. When it becomes clear to Jessica that this silver-spoon-coddled student isn’t sufficiency influenced by $500 to actually participate in the study, she develops a plan to take her place.
And that’s how Jessica meets Dr. Shields, the head of the study in question who is as mysterious as she is glamorous.
While Jessica only intends to be some anonymous girl, who answers some questions and collects her rather generous reward, Dr. Shields has other ideas. She sees something in Jessica and recruits her to participate in a more… involved study.
Though Jessica initially agrees, as her relationship with Dr. Shields continues to develop and the tasks she’s assigned grow increasingly worrisome, she begins to question the motives of the doctor, the purpose of the study and the soundness of her decision to continue to participate.
Like Jessica, who found herself immediately enamored with the pashmina-wearing Dr. Shields, I was initially drawn into this novel.
But it wasn’t Dr. Shields who captured my attention, it was Jessica.
She’s just the type of protagonist to whom I tend to develop an attachment.
Not only was Jessica a round character, with endearing depth to her personality and a… spunk… that I find kind of satisfying, she was also a deeply flawed character.
And I definitely tend to be a sucker for deeply flawed characters.
What can I say… I guess I love broken people.
Because Jessica had a believably rich backstory and, when we met her, was down on her luck, she was easy to both empathize with and root for.
So I read through most of the novel with a vested interest in Jessica’s physical and mental well being and… for, say 90% of the novel … enjoyed it.
I mean, sure, Jessica did get a little “Whoa is me” at points, but I can’t say that I blamed her.
This.. whiney… attitude didn’t hurt my opinion of the book because it was believable. I’d be a whiney ass bitch, too, if half this shit was happening to me.
What did hurt my opinion of the novel, though, was the ending.
As we move through the book we discover that Dr. Shields gives two fucks about Jessica — obviously — and that she’s only using her to, basically, get back at her estranged husband.
Though savvy readers will likely suspect Dr. Shields’ nefarious intentions pretty early on, by the time we — and really Jessica for that matter — know for certain that the doctor is up to no good Jessica is too far in to gracefully — or safely — bow out of the arrangement.
As the novel draws to a close, it seems that a happy ending just isn’t to be had. Struggle as she might, Jessica only seems to sink further into the mire.
But, then, Dr. Shields kills herself.
So. Yeah. Nah.
I do not believe that it would have ended that way.
I mean, sure, Jessica had finally developed a bit of the an upperhand.
But seriously. No.
Love her or hate her, Dr. Shields was a bad-ass bitch and I absolutely don’t believe that she would have slunk off into the night and killed herself so… passively.
It’s not that I don’t think she’s fucked up enough to end her own life.
I just think she would have made sure she went out with a bang, not a whimper.
As is, unfortunately, so often the case, it was the conclusion that really sank this one for me.
I would recommend — and have already recommended — this book to fans of pure thrillers, but I didn’t find the depth in this novel that I had hoped… the depth that is necessary to transcend the oft-maligned thriller genre and be a standalone, stellar, work of literature.
This one earns 3 out of 5 cocktails.
What’s the worst ending to a book you’ve ever read? I think I’m two-way tied between Of Mice and Men (Seriously, George?!?) and The Fall. Tell me your least favorite literary conclusion in the comments, below.
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