Saturday, January 31, 2009

Girls In Trucks by Katie Crouch

I have been a little bit too busy/high strung lately to take on any kind of reading that does not accompany curling up with Ben and Jerry's well and so several days ago I made it home from the library with a stack of Claire Dane's movies and the novel Girls In Trucks. There's something about southern chick lit with quirky female protagonists that makes the world make sense again. Sometimes I think that studying English has sucked my love out of reading anything "important" or canonical or respectable. Or maybe I'm making excuses.

Spoilers, because I doubt this would appeal much to anyone else here:
Sarah Walters, our main character, is a debutante and a fourth generation Camellia society member brought up in Charleston by a prim and proper mother desperate to marry her daughter off to someone, anyone, but preferably a man from a certain kind of class that knows how to Fox Trot. (I can appreciate this after I have heard the speech about how college is the mall of America for future husbands a couple too many times.) Her older sister goes to Yale and leaves impossible expectations for Sarah to live up to, Sarah moves to New York to work in publishing and spends her time falling for a cruel and abusive man while her best friend from back home spends all of her time drinking and shooting heroin in their dingy living room, and that prim and proper mother of hers comes out of the closet with another Camellia Society member after her husband shoots himself. What I like about Sarah is that she's honest and she has all of those embarrassing, heartbreaking moments that we all more or less deal with--the day you find out that the one person who would always want you suddenly doesn't anymore, the day you try to be inconspicuous while you accidentally run into your ex-boyfriend's new love interest, the day you realize the person you've been seeing is already in a relationship, or worse, a marriage. When Sarah needed a good slap in the face was usually when I found myself rooting for her the most, though. Her struggle for grace and resilience in the worst of situations made her voice feel authentic to me and her strange and obviously faulty ways of trying to bounce back endearing.

The thing that I appreciated about the book was that it had a strange circle of female friends that didn't exactly make sense and weren't compatible except for being raised in the same area, which I think is true of most groups of women. The thing that I liked about them, as catty and self-involved as some of them were, was that regardless of distance in miles between them once they had gone their separate ways and regardless of ideological differences as they bloomed into different people out of watchful eye of the Camellia society, they held one another accountable for their shit. So many women have to walk on eggshells around one another and aren't ballsy enough to serve up brutal honesty when it's needed, but the characters in Crouch's novel weren't that way. I think that the reason I couldn't stop thinking about that throughout reading this book was that my friend is getting married to someone who everyone else (including myself) realizes is not good for her but how do you tell that to someone you love who is glowing when they bring you the news? That also might have a lot to do with the Claire Danes and the Ben and Jerry's.

I think the main reason I ended up reading Girls In Trucks is that it started out with Sarah's years in cotillion, which was something that I was fascinated by as a kid. I went to this middle school in Raleigh where most of the girls in my class were taking cotillion classes and becoming well versed in becoming a lady while I was still chasing my brothers friends around trying to convince them to let me play basketball. I never understood why they were whirling around learning how to do what seemed like outdated dances but ended up asking my mother if I could join in on that, not wanting to be out of the loop. Lucky for me she knew that there was no way that was something that would have been good for me and if I had been accepted at all I never would have fit in. Later on, some of those same girls ended up becoming debutantes, and they seemed like they were from another planet, one that had rules dictated by what side of the beltline you lived on and snobbery. I'm glad that I was never one of them but I guess it was nice to be able to infiltrate that world for a couple hours as a fly on the wall through the pages of this book.

You can see Crouch talk about the novel here.


Nathan said...

Oh I only read curled up with Ben & Jerry's.

Christopher said...

I can foxtrot.

Brent Waggoner said...

I have a truck.

Anonymous said...

my mom sent me this review. (she combs the internet searching for my name.) thanks very much for the kind and honest words about the book. i appreciate your insight.

Best, Katie Crouch