This is another of the “girl” thriller novels. Indeed, on the jacket, this novel is compared to those novels, which is what led me to it. Because I enjoyed those novels, I kept going despite a rough beginning. Ani writes about sex and other trivia for a prominent women’s magazine. While others may see her as successful, she is plagued by insecurities. Her columns are trivial. She is still the girl who grew up in a McMansion whose mother wore clothes and drove a car a little too flashy to fit in with the truly monied whose acceptance she craved and whose acceptance led her to make sacrifices to send Ani, then TifAni, to a private school miles away from home filled with the privileged offspring of old money. Ani, now living the dream life in New York City, is engaged to a man from old money, Lucas Harrison. He seems dreamy until we get below the surface, where Ani reveals that he is in love with a facade she has created and worked hard to maintain, but the cracks of which are showing.
The novel moves between past and present through Ani’s perspective. She reveals the problems in her parents’ marriage (her father was forced to marry her mother when she became pregnant with Ani and has not seemed to have a feeling for either of them since). Mostly she reveals the ways in which she did not fit in and how deeply she felt her outsider status. She makes friends with the popular crowd early in her days at Bradley, the private high school, but all goes downhill when she attends a party of only the boys while parents are out of town. Enter the gang rape story of an incapacitated young woman, which is plenty sympathetic, but Knoll drags it out and many chapters in I was wondering how the novel was going to sustain the plot for many more pages.
A crucial plot device rests in a documentary being made about Bradley, for which Ani has agreed to be interviewed and about which Lucas is very unhappy. He knows “what happened,” which readers can assume at this point was the rape, but his lack of empathy is troubling. When the interview finally arrives, Ani reveals another “big thing” that happened at Bradley–a mass shooting/suicide in the style of Columbine and that relates in part to her rape. This should have been compelling, but, because Knoll dragged out the rape and tried to build suspense for so long about what was the big deal with the interview, by the time the shooting story unfolded, I was annoyed. What else, I thought, could Knoll pile into this novel? Wait a minute, a complication with her favorite teacher, who now appeared in her life again and was also being interviewed. But wait again, now how about reality tv? What about the documentary crew filming the wedding of Ani and Lucas as a happy ending to the tragic shooting story?
All of these “ripped from the headlines” elements seemed piled atop one another for effect, like a bad infomercial, rather than authentic plot elements that flowed from one another. This was not a bad story. It was not a very good story. Ani was not a very sympathetic (which is saying something given her gang rape and shooting victim status) main character. Perhaps that’s because it was difficult to empathize with an upper-middle-class white girl whose parents gave her everything but the love she needed in order to elevate her and themselves into the next super-elite social stratus when there are so many stories in the news and elsewhere today of people struggling against much greater adversities. Perhaps it’s because Knoll prioritizes Ani’s struggle with her middle-class identity over her insecurity and intimacy issues resulting from her multiple victimizations. Either way, while this novel may have tried to be a Gone Girl or a Girl on the Train, its protagonist was nowhere near as compelling and its plot nowhere near as skillfully constructed.