The Short Version: Lucy Wilder is a smart, sexy New York lawyer with a job she loves and a great fiancé. So why is she sleeping with other guys the week before her wedding? As her family and his descend on her hometown of Key West, she’s got seven days to figure out if walking down the aisle will really make her happy – all the while handling her first major case.
The Review: I’ll admit up-front that I found myself attracted to this book because of the cover. Its bright, smart, fun design kept me feeling ARCs at Strand and eventually, on a whim (and needing something fun), I picked one up. (The hardcover features the same fun design, although it is not quite as satisfying a tactile experience as the nice plastic-y matte ARC cover.)
And I’ll also admit, up front, that I expected very little out of this but froth. I was wagering on a sub-Bridget Jones’ Diary sort of thing, where I enjoyed it but it was ultimately a predictable look at a “hot mess” of a lady figuring out her life. You can imagine my delight at getting not only a hot summer read but also a wonderfully assured defense of the modern woman.
Slut-shamers, get ye elsewhere (and judging by the reviews on Goodreads, there are far too many of you reading fiction these days). Lily Wilder likes sex and that is okay. Yes, there’s a whole subplot about a childhood trauma that makes her uncomfortable with talking about sex and the novel probably could’ve done without that cliché, but several characters get a chance to deliver impassioned defenses of the joys of sex for men and women alike – and I wanted to cheer aloud for every single one. Send copies of this book to every Republican candidate for president (Carly Fiorina included) and maybe also everybody, male or female, who feels that it’s okay to judge a woman for having slept with – egad – more than a handful of partners, let alone way more and often many at the same time. Lily (and her mom & stepmothers) could kick the crap out of just about any misogynist asshole who wants to try and take them on and we could use a little more frankness – enjoyable frankness – in the world today. Hell, I saw people on Goodreads saying that Lily was a sociopath for screwing around while with her fiancé and days away from her wedding. Seriously? A sociopath? Do you even know what that word means? Look, Lily’s choices are perhaps not the best all the time – but also (and I don’t want to put too fine a point on it) you can take your judgements and fuck off. You don’t want to have sex with a bunch of people, that’s fine – but don’t judge somebody else for living their life the way they want to, even if it makes you upset.
And this is the ultimate idea behind Eliza Kennedy’s novel, really: live your life in the way that makes you happy, not anyone else… but also, make sure you figure out what happiness actually is for you. For Lily, it’s her job – and it’s sex. She’s really good at her job and she really likes having sex. And she’s found a guy who actually makes her think she might properly be in love… but is she ready to give up lots of sex for that? It sounds like a ridiculous question but the older I get, the more I realize that it’s just as valid as “do I want to give up my social life for kids?”, “do I want to go to college near my high school significant other?”, or any number of similar Big Relationship Questions that occur throughout your life. If you choose one answer, it doesn’t mean your neighbor has to choose the same one, you know? I spent a lot of my life choosing the answer that I wanted, damn the torpedoes… and I’ve got a job I’m really good at, that I really like. Watching Lily kick ass (in her own unorthodox way) during the course of the deposition/deposition prep (a delightful side-plot, by the way, adding the additional layer of “career vs. personal life” to the several-layers-tall cake that we’ve got going so far), I was reminded that it’s okay to love your job and be good at it and to let it get in the way of other things, if you’re okay with it getting in the way of other things.
Of course, for all the be-yourself positivity of the novel, it’s still a relatively predictable and definitely pretty frothy tale. There’s a whole lot of well-written (or, you know, as well-written as these things can be) sex and quite a bit of broad-brush characterization that’s played largely for laughs or, barring that, for narrative economy. And there are a couple of plot “twists” that you should be able to see coming from miles away (although I will say that the particulars of one twist were genuinely unexpected for me). Kennedy doesn’t do much to sideswipe the genre she’s writing in, choosing instead to subvert expectations and understandings from within – although the novel’s resolution felt like it was, to some extent, a genuine attempt to do something bold. Still, this book isn’t going to shatter your expectations of what some might call chick-lit or women’s literature and while Kennedy (who is, by the way, a grad of Harvard Law and an ass-kicker in her own right) can write a delightful sentence, she does succumb to some first novel jitters throughout. It’s not enough to sink the ship, but it makes for the sort of book that is perhaps best enjoyed on a beach with a drink at your side – which is not a bad thing, mind you. It’s how I wished I could’ve read this book, making do with my fire escape and a beer from the bodega around the corner. But anyway…
Rating: 4 out of 5. Your personal mileage may vary in the following categories: madcap family relationships, sex talk, girlfriends, weddings, and legal hilarity. But where it should NOT vary is in Kennedy’s bold and forthright tackling of sexual politics. It’s 2015, so enough with slut-shaming, job-shaming, anything-shaming and enough with believing that a person’s body/mind and what they do with it are anyone’s business but their own. Lily Wilder reminds me of some of my friends and I’m damn proud to know that she isn’t fictional, but very much real. Lily Wilders of the world, I hope you’re kicking ass out there right now – because heaven knows we need a few more brilliant “messes”. They’re the only way the rest of the world gets comfortable with being themselves.