"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Monday, July 25, 2016

Review #29: Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan

Celia, Sally, Bree, and April meet their freshman year at Smith College, and the four of them couldn't be more different. Celia is our narrator, a lapsed Catholic who had the foresight to smuggle a bottle of vodka in to her suitcase. Sally is recovering from the loss of her mother just months before, and unsure she is willing - or able - to make friends and enjoy college. Bree has arrived with a diamond ring on her finger and the next fifty years of her life planned. And April is a red-haired, radical feminist who can't fathom that she could ever be friends with the likes of Celia, Sally, and Bree.

But friends they become, however unlikely, and for the next four years they see each other through heartache and heartbreak, love, loss, all night study sessions and skipped classes, too much booze and too much food, and before they realize it, they've graduated and moved on to bigger pastures. But they remain close until an argument on the eve of Sally's wedding threatens to undo the bonds of the past years. And then April disappears, and they aren't sure if they can ever recover from the loss.

To Sullivan's credit, I could see where she was going with this novel, but unfortunately, between the extraordinarily abrupt ending and the lack of character development, she never quite hits the mark. Celia, Sally, Bree, and April are caricatures of themselves, with April being the most confusingly drawn of all four. Sullivan takes what could have been a fantastic strong female lead and simultaneously paints her as (forgive me, Gloria Steinem, but there is no other word I can use here) a femi-nazi and an increasingly weak apologetic little girl. Celia, Sally, and Bree vacillate between having their acts together and behaving like insipid, spoiled little rich girls, but truly, what Sullivan did with April's character was baffling.

I wanted to like this book, but in the end, I found that all I felt was irritation at having invested the time in it.

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