(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Set in New England at the time of the American Bicentennial, Best Seller is the poignant story of a displaced young woman struggling to figure out who she is within the context of her hometown and the carefully masked dysfunction of her family. “Everything can be fixed by writing a check.” Words to live by for Robin Fortune’s wealthy father, until he can’t buy her way back into college after she’s expelled for dealing pot. Now he chooses not to speak to her anymore, but that’s just one of the out-of-whack situations Robin’s facing. At nineteen, she feels rudderless, working in a diner by day and sleeping with a buddy from high school by night – all so strange for her because she was always the one with the plan. While her college friends plotted how to ensnare husbands, she plotted a novel, which she scratched out into a series of spiral-bound notebooks she hides in the closet. But now, there’s nothing. No vision, no future, no point. In fact, the only thing she feels she has to look forward to is that her favorite author, Maryana Capture, is paying a visit to the local Thousand Words bookstore. Robin surmises that if she can convince Maryana to help her get her novel published, she’ll finally get herself back on track. Except that life never takes a straight path in this intensely satisfying coming-of-age novel.
[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
I have to say that for all of my hesitation about Best Seller, it actually isn’t a bad book. It’ll never be a great book but Martha Reynolds is a pretty solid writer.
Her main strength is her characters because although I hate people like Robin in real life (naive, unambitious sorts of people who have never done a thing for themselves) I actually didn’t mind her in fiction. Do I like every decision she makes? Of course not, particularly when it concerns her love life. However, it’s a testament to the strength of Reynolds’ writing that I didn’t throw the book at the wall like I normally would with a character like this. In some ways I enjoyed Robin’s journey from pretty darn naive for a 20 year old to an almost adult by the end, and in some ways I was a little frustrated at the same time.
The reason I was frustrated was the plot. I love a good character novel but I do feel that a book has to have some sort of overarching plot or theme that the main character struggles with. That wasn’t necessarily so in Best Seller. There’s a lot of inter-character conflict but the main point of the novel (Robin is an aspiring young writer) gets wrapped up in just a couple of pages at the end. Just like every other conflict Robin faces, it gets wrapped up in a pretty little bow at the end with not even a little ambiguity anywhere. It’s just too perfect, really, especially when you consider characters like David who do a total 180 by the end.
I haven’t exactly lived through 1976 so I’m not going to talk about any historical accuracy in the novel. But, at the same time, Martha Reynolds’ writing made me feel like I was there with the characters: breathing in the smoke before smoking indoors in public places was illegal (which I do actually remember), tasting the breakfast at the diner and so much more. She has a very descriptive writing style and yet she never crosses into boring territory.
So when a writer can make me like the sort of person I’d rather slap in real life and can bring me back to an era I’ve never lived through, I can definitely appreciate their efforts and their talent. I just wish that Best Seller had more of a plot/point.
I give this book 3/5 stars.