I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
I have read several books by Lily King—The English Teacher, The Pleasing Hour, and Euphoria. All were resounding successes. Naturally, I was immediately drawn to her latest book, Writers & Lovers: A Novel. This story tells of a writer desperately trying to finish the manuscript of her first novel. It began with Case Peabody shortly after the death of her mother. Page after page reminded me of so many of the things I have dealt with recently. The first line touched me deeply.
Lily wrote, “I have a pact with myself […] not to think about money in the morning. But I am 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” (1). My mother also died recently, and this is just the beginning of the intertwined story by King, that I live with.
Lily struggles to complete her novel. She manages to hold things together at her “lunch shift.” She ponders, “I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse” (3). This is continual agony about her writing. I mean my writing.
Thinking of her mother is another thing we share. Lily writes, “I push some chicken around on my paper plate. I need to change the subject. Talking about my book makes me feel flayed alive. ‘John Updike came into the restaurant where I work a few weeks ago, and while I was putting down his salad the woman next to him told him how much she loved The Centaur, and he shook his head and said he only wrote it because he didn’t have any other ideas at the time. That’s kind of the way I feel’” (71) she wrote. Updike. My favorite author and The Centaur, my favorite of all his novels.
Lily then muses, “The hardest thing about writing is getting in every day, breaking through the membrane. The second hardest thing is getting out. Sometimes I sink down too deep and come up too fast. Afterward, I feel wide open and skinless. The whole world feels moist and pliable. When I get up from the desk I straighten the edges of everything. The rug needs to be perfectly aligned with the floorboards. My toothbrush needs to be perpendicular to the edge of the shelf. Clothing cannot be left inside out” (81). I sink and come up, I feel open, moist, and pliable, straight edges, a perpendicular toothbrush. This is only the beginning of a novel that is so close to my comfort zone. It is eerie that I find myself so closely connected to Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. I did not imagine all this, rather the story struck me from the start. 5 stars.
Likely Stories is a production of KWBU. I’m Jim McKeown. Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!