May 27th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
I’ve added this to my list to read. Interesting:
Watchful, bookish Cat and reckless, alluring Marlena have plenty of literary and pop cultural antecedents, but Buntin, through closely observed detail, makes these two her own. Their attachment is full of lovely teenage-girl things — cherry lip gloss, cut-up T-shirts, hearts drawn on the back of a hand, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks songs, tossed-off but unforgotten intimacies: “She scrapes a set of fingernails against my kneecap, a small circle that opens outward, shivering through me.” They share sarcasm, but they also share a simmering rage at being poor and female and cornered in a world with few options for them — where escape appears mostly in the form of another trap: addiction. Alcohol for Cat, pills for Marlena. The prevalence of opioids, along with meth, is more than a timely backdrop here; it figures inextricably into the novel’s plot — the unraveling of Marlena’s life and the lasting consequences for Cat. “We were basically statistics,” Cat tells us, but one of Buntin’s achievements is in acknowledging that reality while constructing characters that are anything but.
The strength Cat and Marlena derive from their connection offers an alternative escape. “Together, we had power.… Nothing could hurt us, as long as we weren’t alone.” The effects are abiding for Cat, who later describes her friend as “the bit of steel at my center,” but it’s not enough to save Marlena. Days “so big and electric that they swallowed the future and the past” are fleeting, and the girls’ closeness is threatened by growing resentments and, more sadly, a certain human impenetrability. “Sometimes I feel like she is my invention. Like the more I say, the further from the truth of her I get,” Cat concedes, and this novel wrestles with the notion that the truth — the truth of our private, inner lives — is not only subjective but contradictory and often unknowable. Still, Marlena is Cat’s invention, and Cat is Marlena’s — they invent each other.
What gives this narrative its force is the accumulation of so much potential and the absolute crushing of it. Part of that is circumstantial, the specific conditions Cat and Marlena are up against, and part is more broadly existential. Cat’s safe but lackluster adulthood can’t compare with her adolescence, which was at once not enough and too much. She’s motivated to leave for New York, but in the sections set in the present, her grief has generated a numbness so blanketing it renders even the city flat and generic. Drinking seems to be the one thing that brings her to life as it paradoxically deadens her.