The Paper Wasp

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Thank you to Grove Atlantic for providing me with Lauren Acampora’s novel, The Paper Wasp, in exchange for an honest review.

Abby and Elise were childhood best friends raised in a small town in Michigan. They began to grow apart when as a teenager, Elise became involved in acting and her career took off.

Flash-Forward to their late 20’s: Elise is an actress living in Hollywood, while Abby is stuck in their small town, a college dropout. She is working retail and dreaming of a career in the film industry. Abby obsesses over Elise, saving every magazine article that features her former friend. The two women reconnect, when they both attend their high school reunion. Following the reunion, Abby decides to run off to Hollywood, showing up on Elise’s doorstep. Elise, takes Abby in for an extended stay, treating Abby to a taste of her lavish lifestyle. Soon, the boundaries of their relationship are blurred, when Abby accepts a job being Elise’s personal assistant. The situation is further strained by Abby’s growing ambition, a ticking time-bomb that is ready to explode.

I absolutely loved The Paper Wasp. Acampora is a masterful writer, combing gorgeous prose with complex characters. I could not put The Paper Wasp down and plowed through it in a single afternoon.

I’m a Los Angeles native and I found the way that Acampora captured the city to be perfect. There is a wonderful moment where Elise drives Abby through Hollywood for the first time, noting its lackluster, dingy atmosphere, which is a strong contrast both Abby’s perceived image of Hollywood and to Elise’s glamorous lifestyle. Elise takes meditation classes at an exclusive institute and although I’m not sure of a real-life counterpart, it is certainly something that exists in Los Angeles. It has strange, ethereal quality, but is also is a bit of a cult. I could easily imagine the type of fellow Angeleno’s, not only celebrities, who would have a membership to this type of club. One of the more memorable aspects of the institution, is their crazy costume parties, where members come dressed as images from their dreams. It’s strange and magical, with a hint of a nightmarish quality; akin to a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

There is another contrast, when Abby travels back to Michigan to see her sister. Her sister is a drug addict, who has recently had a baby daughter. Abby visits her sister and niece, seeing that they live in a filthy trailer barely able to make ends meet. Abby’s heart tells her to kidnap her niece and save her from the poverty and neglect, but she can’t act on it.

Abby’s obsession with Elise creates a tension throughout the story. In the start, she appears to be a bit of a stalker, but then as we see the dynamic between the two women, it is clearer that Abby is more concerned with the lack of direction that her life has taken. She is envious of Elise, who doesn’t seem to deserve her lucky breaks. Rather than wishing to be Elise, Abby thinks that she is more deserving or at least, if she were to have a good opportunity, she would know how to make the most of it. We learn that Abby has been carrying around a terrible secret that is making her more motivate to take risks in life. Abby becomes emboldened throughout the story, making her actions increasing erratic, creating a sense of danger.

When Abby is confronted with the real Elise, not the Elise from the magazine articles, she realizes that her friend lacks self-confidence. Elise lives a messy life. This sets up a social commentary on how we view celebrity, or even ordinary people, via carefully curated social media accounts. Abby couldn’t imagine the real Elise, because she was so caught-up in the fake, media version. Not only that, Abby spent a decade so hyper-focused on this fake Elise, that when she was confronted with the truth, her world cracked open.

The Paper Wasp is my current favorite read of 2019. I was hooked from the first page and cannot wait to read Acampora’s collection of short stories, The Wonder Garden. She is such a talented writer.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

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Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of Lauren Weisberger’s novel, When Life Gives You Lululemons, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Emily Charlton has left her job as Miranda Priestly’s assistant and is making a name for herself in Hollywood, working as an image consultant. When she loses a few high-profile clients  to a much younger ( and trendier) competitor, Emily heads to the suburbs of Connecticut to take refuge in the home of her dearest friend, Miriam. Miriam’s life as a suburban mom is completely different from Emily’s fast-paced lifestyle. While in Connecticut, Emily gets a career lead, when Miriam’s friend Karolina, a former super-model and wife to a Senator, becomes involved in a front-page scandal. Emily soon realizes that Karolina’s situation may have a sinister side. Can Emily survive living in the suburbs, while she works to repair Karolina’s tarnished reputation?

LIKE-Emily Charlton is one of the most entertaining characters in Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada,and I was thrilled to see her as a main character in When Life Gives You Lululemons. This isn’t a sequel, but a stand-alone book that you can definitely read without having read Prada, but fans will be excited for the return of both Charlton and the devil herself, Miranda Priestly.

When Life Gives You Lululemonshas a solid cast of three strong female leads. I felt the most sympathy for Karolina, who faces severe judgement in the public eye for a crime that she didn’t commit. The fact that she is both rich and beautiful, seems to give others the freedom to be hyper-critical and over look other aspects of her personality, like her intelligence and warm heart. Weisberger’s novels often deal with themes of celebrity, serving to push-back against the way society both obsesses and criticizes those in the public eye. Karolina’s situation is a sad one, made more so by the fact that her step-son, whom she adores and has raised for many years, is taken from her during the scandal.

Weisberger has a knack for clever titles. I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water scenario with Emily having to spend time in Greenwich, CT.. She may know how to handle Miranda Priestly, but suburban housewives are a new breed of high-maintenance women for her to master.

DISLIKE-  When Life Gives You Lululemonswas an enjoyable read, it is not one that is very memorable. I finished it a few weeks ago and even as I am writing this review, I’m struggling to recall key plot points or even how it ended.

RECOMMEND-Yes. I recommend When Life Gives You Lululemonsto fans of The Devil Wears Prada. It’s also a solid pick for a beach read.