The genius of Lily King really snuck up on me in this book, the first I’ve read from her (it will not be the last). The simple nature of her writing does not detract from the beauty of her prose, but makes it easy to fall in rhythm with the plot without realizing just how intoxicating the story actually is.
The main character, Casey Peabody, is described as an inspiring writer at the end of her youth in love with two different men. That last bit is a stretch- more accurately, she becomes romantically interested in two men at different stages in life, and through her relationships with them she allows herself to imagine the diverging courses her life could take.
I suppose this is a coming of age story, though “coming of age” is a term I typically see associated with younger characters; at 31 Casey’s main struggle is reconciling her creative aspirations of youth with her adult needs of medical insurance, financial security, proper living arrangements, and healthy romantic relationships.
The story beautifully balances grief and anxiety with hope and determination. It opens with Casey dealing with the sudden death of her healthy mother, an experience that mirrors Lily King’s own. I recommend watching the Politics & Prose virtual author event from April 2020 in which King describes writing this novel, it is available on YouTube here.
Moments when Casey wanted to share something with her mother but then remembered she can’t call her anymore were heartbreaking. King also included an interlude of a chapter on the relationships of famous authors and their mothers that was so very endearing. This element of sadness, along with Casey’s ringing anxiety (culminating in a panic attack at work written so well I could almost feel it alongside the character), is countered by her driving devotion to her creative dreams; she is determined to see her novel through. Her confidence in herself to this end, while not complete at all times, was refreshing. Late in the novel another character admiringly calls her a gambler… a high roller… for putting so much faith in herself, and I just loved that analogy.
The setting of the novel is late 90s Boston, but I found I kept forgetting that. Every once in a while a mention of Harvard would remind me where we were, and the use of landlines and answering machines would remind me of when we were… but I feel like the atmosphere of the time and city were not very developed (a small gripe, but I love both Boston and the 90s so I will mention it).
It took me about halfway through the book to fall in love with it and really appreciate all it was doing. I think for a while I held myself back from the book because of a portion where Casey has gotten herself some health insurance and plays catch up on long overdue doctor’s visits. I am close in age to Casey (34 to her 31) and so I am also at the point where I went years without seeing doctors for anything other than my pregnancies, but now need to get in the habit of regular visits and it is a source of great anxiety for me. So for that extremely unique to me reason I nearly put the story aside. I am so glad I continued on, and now I am looking forward to reading more from the author.
Have you read Writers & Lovers yet?Please comment with your experiences with this book or recommendations on which Lily King to read next.