By the Time You Read This, Lola Jaye

Saturday, October 06, 2018

This book came to me by way of my Little Free Library. I can't really explain why I decided to bring it in. On the surface, it's not really my thing. Regular readers of my book reviews will know that I am anti anything that reminds me of a Lifetime or Hallmark movie. I don't mind sentimental stories, but when the emotional manipulation is so thick you can cut it with a knife, I just can't. But free books are free books, so it ended up on my to-read shelf.

Lois's father dies of cancer when she is five. On her 12th birthday, her aunt brings her a set of manuals that her father wrote for her in anticipation of his death. She is to open and read one on each birthday until she turns 30, the age her father was when he died. Lois, who has spent essentially her whole life grieving the father she barely remembers, anxiously awaits each birthday, ready to read the words of wisdom that he left for her. Along the way she learns a lot about herself and her relationships-with family, friends, and lovers-and comes to terms with the hole in her life that losing her father caused.

Super Lifetime-movie-like, right? I thought so too, and when I started reading I gave it 50 pages before I would abandon it for something less schmaltzy. And then, around page 75, I realized I was totally hooked. It's certainly not perfect-there are definitely sections where I was annoyed either by Lois herself, who essentially spent the majority of her life ignoring the people she had left in favor of the father she lost, or by some overly-sentimental little moment. But Jaye took what could have been a saccharine story and made it palatable, in large part because the manuals themselves, the only mechanism through which Lois or the reader can know her father, are full of self-deprecating humor, self-doubt, and real talk life lessons. No inspirational platitudes here; Lois's father admits his shortcomings and mistakes, and rather than being the untouchable saint Lois tries to make him, the reader sees a real person, struggling with his own mortality and his grief at leaving his young daughter to grow up without him.

While I certainly wouldn't describe this novel as literary, it is a decent example of what women's fiction, specifically chick lit, can be when done well. Of course, most of my criticisms of chick lit still stand-Lois's life is defined by her relationships with men (her father and others), there's a healthy dose of female competitiveness, and her professional success is shown as being hollow without the "love of a good man". But I got sucked in anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Penny for your thoughts...