Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review: Leftovers by Laura Wiess

Book: Leftovers
Author: Laura Weiss
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

Blair and Ardith come from two different worlds. Blair is the daughter of two high-powered lawyers, one of whom is gunning for judge. She lives in a huge, sterile house, surrounded by the emptiness of her absent parents, except when they want to trot out their well-bred daughter for admiring colleagues. Ardith is the youngest child of the town party house, and has witnessed more hollow drunkenness and sexcapades than most college students. Different as they are, they’re drawn to each other, the only other person who knows how it is to live without love. Parental disapproval keeps tugging them apart, and their lives crumble at the edges. Then a terrible event gives them the chance to take their revenge on the people who have hurt them most.

The structure of this story is eye-catching, and luckily, Wiess has the narrative chops to back it up. First, Blair and Ardith are telling their stories, looping back to past events to explain a recent one. (Of course, this brings up interesting thoughts of unreliable narrators, and Blair often appears much different in Ardith's chapters than her own, and vice versa.) They address themselves to a nameless witness, although you figure out who it is by about the middle of the novel, but they are also sitting in front of you, the reader, telling you how and why it happened.

Also, it's told in second person, a tense not often used in fiction. This goes beyond simple storytelling: they are forcing you to live it, to see what they see and understand why they did what they did. It succeeds in two different ways, first in the way intended, and second in making you step back and consider, "What else could they have done?" There's a feeling of inevitability about the story arc, though, all the way to its ugly and morally conflicted ending.

Blair and Ardith are both broken souls, broken by different means and in different ways, but broken nonetheless. As with her first novel, Such a Pretty Girl, Wiess weaves a tale that makes you root for her protagonists and cheer as their tormentors receive their comeuppance. Yet you close the book being deeply troubled about their eventual fate.

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