Writers & Lovers-Lily King

 

Casey Peabody has been writing her novel for six years. She won a two-week place in a writer’s workshop where she allowed herself to lose focus by falling for  hard to get poet Luke.

Casey doesn’t have great taste in men; they usually turn out to be reluctant to commit. But she has other problems as well, like a great grief tearing at her heart, and a severe shortage of money. She is one step away from becoming homeless.

Her story engaged me from the very first paragraph.

I have a pact with myself not to think about money in the morning. I’m like a teenager trying not to think about sex. But I’m also trying not to think about sex. Or Luke. Or death. Which means not thinking about my mother, who died on vacation last winter. There are so many things I can’t think about in order to write in the morning.

She has a huge amount of college debt which increases every day she is unable to pay it, she is living in a mouldy garage belonging to Adam, a friend of her brother who also requires her to walk his dog. He is disparaging about her writing.

‘I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say.’

But it’s not that; Casey is quite clear why she writes

I don’t write because I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse.

Casey’s deepest sadness is the loss of her mother, her closest confidant. Her mother was lively and unconventional and died so suddenly in her early fifties that Casey is still trying to take it in. This aspect of Casey’s story is completely convincing. Woven through her story we get glimpses of her childhood, her brother and her unsatisfactory father.

Casey gets up early in the morning to write before she walks the dog or goes to work. And her journeys to and from work on her bicycle and her time at work were for me some of the most engaging aspects of the book.

Casey lives in New England and works at Iris, a busy up market restaurant. Sometimes she works back to back shifts, lunch service, a short break and then dinner. It is hard work. Casey is experienced in restaurant service, but sometimes the load is excessive. She has her friends among the staff, but also enemies who go out of their way to make her work harder. Here she is at work

But it’s fast. I get slammed with three deuces and a fivetop before the clock in Harvard Yard strikes noon. There isn’t time for thought. You are like a tennis ball knocked from the front of the house to the back over and over until your tables are gone and it’s over and you’re sitting at a calculator adding up your credit card gratuities and tipping out the bartender and the bussers.

Life is hard and unrelenting for Casey and at times it seems she is going to give up on it. But she has one wonderful asset, a friend, Muriel. Muriel is now a successful writer and they have been friends for six years. Through Muriel Casey is invited to a party which changes her life. Through Muriel Casey finally finishes her book and finds an agent.

Because I’m an old meanie I’m not going to tell you how things pan out for Casey. Enough to say I loved this book, especially the parts about her everyday life.

The writing thing didn’t convince me quite so much. But good luck to her for trying.

Lily King is new to me, but I will be reading more of her. Her 2014 novel Euphoria about an imagined love triangle inspired by the life of Margaret Mead is possibly next on my list.

13 thoughts on “Writers & Lovers-Lily King

  1. I saw someone — can’t recall who or where — comparing this to the work of Elizabeth Strout, whose ‘Olive’ books I very much enjoyed. What do you think about that? Is it in a similar vein or not, would you say?

  2. As this is the only book I have read by Lily King so far it is hard to say. Her heroine is certainly not as tough as Olive. I know King deeply admires the work of Elizabeth Strout, but in this book at least, her narrative is more straight forward.

  3. I could identify with Casey getting up early in the morning to write, something I did for many years. I could also identify with the many things Casey has to put out of her mind before she CAN write. I will have to read the book to find out if things work out for her.

    1. Would love to hear your views Dorothy. We only get a fairly sketchy view of what Casey’s book is about, but it’s clear she needs to write. I think in the U S there are many more writers aiming to write The Great Novel via MFA’s

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