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Book Review: The Rest of Us – Jessica Lott

Donna Brown442 views
Fragmentary Thoughts
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About The Rest of Us (2013)
The Rest of UsA gorgeous literary debut about second chances, The Rest of Us is an indelible love story that explores the legacy of an affair between a young student and her older professor.

As a college student, Terry fell madly and destructively in love with Rhinehart, her famous poetry professor, tumbling into a relationship from which she never fully recovered. Now, fifteen years later, she’s single, still living in the same walk-up she moved into after college, and languishing as a photographer’s assistant, having long abandoned her own art. But when she stumbles upon Rhinehart’s obituary online, she finds herself taking stock of the ways her life has not lived up to her youthful expectations and grows disproportionately distraught at the thought that she’ll never see him again.

She is shocked when a few weeks later she bumps into Rhinehart himself: very much alive, married, and Christmas shopping at Bloomingdale’s. What ensues is an intense and beautiful friendship, an unexpected second act that pushes Terry to finally reckon with the consequences of their past and the depth of her own aspirations—and to begin to come back alive as an artist and a woman. Set in New York’s vibrant art world, The Rest of Us is a captivating read and is as much a love letter to the city and the struggles of its artists as it is a sharp and stirring novel of the heart.

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Review: The Rest of Us

Rhinehart was Terry’s big love, introducing her to womanhood, encouraging her inspiration but, ultimately, breaking her heart. When she reads his obituary, she’s forced to accept that her feelings remain unresolved. But the obituary was a silly mistake and a brief meeting in a department store brings a now-married Rhinehart back into her life.

Lott demonstrates a great attention to detail and an ability to write clever, educated characters. Unfortunately, they did not sparkle for me. Terry seemed naive and almost incomplete, like she couldn’t fully function without Rhinehart to consult or get approval from. Rhinehart appears smug and superior, insular and self- obsessed. And indeed, there would have been nothing wrong with this, had this been a different kind of story, or if these were supporting characters. For me, however, a story like this can only be fully appreciated if you can identify with a least one character, even if you don’t happen to like them very much.

The first time Terry showed traits that made me warm to her (slightly), like independence and self- confidence, she was using these attributes to enable an irresponsible and selfish lifestyle. In the same vein, when Rhinehart initially showed vulnerability, it was so dramatic as to be almost overdone and pitiful. I just couldn’t root for these characters.

The novel itself felt fragmented at times, lacking cohesion and flow as it moved from event to event. This was partly down to the change in tempo. The first half of the book progressed slowly and felt almost drawn out, whilst the second quickly gathered pace. The latter half of the novel was significantly more well-paced, compelling and engaging.

My concerns notwithstanding, Lott’s writing style itself provides the real redemption. Character development aside, her writing can be clever and well-structured, lacks the saccharine sentimentality that can easily mar such a novel, and evidences a confident writing style. At times when listening, Ian McEwan came to mind. That’s the real positive here. If Lott can develop the clever character development that McEwan applies, her position as a literary talent will be assured.

In short, whilst this is not without its weaknesses, it’s certainly a worthwhile read. The fluffy is truly absent and if the fuzzy can be erased in future titles, Lott will be a winner.

Verdict: 3/5

(Book source: Netgalley)

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Donna Brown
Avid reader/audiobook listener, fan of podcasts, prone to the odd Netflix binge. Mum to six crazy and incredible rescue cats. Occasional writer of short stories and poetry.

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