Monday, December 31, 2018

Looker by Laura Sims

LOOKER has a somewhat misleading summary on Goodreads which I think accounts for some of the negative reviews. The summary makes you think it is going to be like Caroline Kepnes's YOU or Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL, but this is not the case. In situations like these, I want to take the publishers aside and tell them, "Look, even if blurbs like these sell copies, they aren't going to get you good reviews, because if there's one thing that pretty much everyone universally hates, it's being lied to."

The unnamed protagonist's obsession with the actress who lives in her neighborhood is not what drives her to madness. She is woman who (I'm guessing) is in her mid-thirties. Her husband has just left her and is in the process of getting a divorce from her due in part to her infertility. She is an untenured professor teaching night classes on poetry at the local community college. Her identity as a woman, measured on the superficial standards of success set by society based on motherhood, sex appeal, and self-control, have been compromised. She feels panic, anxiety. She focuses on the woman who seems to have it all so, so easily: the actress.

I think if you read this as a traditional mystery novel, you're going to be disappointed. There aren't any last act splatter-fests, as in AMERICAN PSYCHO, no abrupt twists as in GONE GIRL. The worst thing that happens in this book is that the cat dies, and I'm sorry if that's a spoiler, but it's something I wished I'd known going in because animal deaths upset me, and maybe they upset you, too, so please consider yourself warned. LOOKER is instead a brutal character study into one woman's midlife crisis turned psychotic break. Initially, she sells her unreliable narration but pretty soon it begins to fray at the seems, as she herself begins to lose her tenuous grip on reality.

If anything, LOOKER feels like a condemnation on the unrelenting standards imposed upon women: we have to be attractive, we have to want and/or have children, we have to be poised and impeccable, we have to have careers and be successful at them (but not too successful). In short, we have to have it all. It's bitterly unfair that some women have to work 200% harder for things that come to men (specifically white men) with relative ease, and it's even more bitterly unfair that those things that come to women with difficulty are about 1000% harder for women of color. LOOKER reminds me of those books that I call "proto-feminist books," like MADAME BOVARY or THE AWAKENING or THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, where this sheer unfairness drives a woman to madness after she breaks social convention and finds the social ostracism and guilt too much to psychologically bear.

I don't think this is a happy book, or even a particularly satisfying one, but there is something honest about it that hits a little too close to home in the age of Instagram and FOMO and celebrity advice.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

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