Thursday, October 22, 2015

Unbecoming - Rebecca Scherm

Title: Unbecoming
Author: Rebecca Scherm
Publication Date: 1/22/15
Pages: 320
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: Not sure
Date Completed: 10/11/15

Summary: Grace, whose going by 'Julie' these days, lives in fear. Every day, as she goes to her job as an antiques restorer in Paris, she worries about the life she left back in Garland, Tennessee, specifically, those two boys who have just been paroled from their jail sentences. After all, they went to jail because of her.

What I Thought: I really enjoyed this novel. I wish I could remember how I discovered it, because I want to go back to that source for more recommendations. The book was not perfect; there were some mild writing downfalls, as can be found in most thrillers. As a whole, however, I found it unique and engaging. 

I absolutely loved the art & antique aspect of the book. As someone who holds a Master of Liberal Arts and teaches a Humanities course, it should not come as a surprise that I delighted in this choice of Scherm's. Integrating fine arts happens to rarely in modern novels, at least of this genre. Sure, Donna Tartt explored the art world to an extent in The Goldfinch, but I don't think back on that book fondly, despite its Pulitzer Prize status. What I like is when an author, such as Scherm, utilizes the fine art world as a plot point, but also allows a character to grow and learn through it. Grace does just that. Her exposure to the art world shapes her as a person and a character. She uses her newfound knowledge as both an excuse and an escape. Since the novel pivots around art theft, the subject if never far in the background and Scherm does a lovely job of showing us how Grace falls in love with true art: that which has meaning and intention beyond the surface level.

I have seen some readers complain that the characters remain stagnant throughout the work. While I can justify those comments, I also can recognize how Scherm's jumpy timeline affects any character development. We are continually jumping back and forth between Grace/Julie's life in Paris and the "old" days back in Garland. Thus, we see Grace as she is, as she has become before we ever see the person she used to be. Seeing them side by side should make her change as a character more evident, but somehow it does the opposite. When you are reading about Grace as a child or teenager, you already know where she is headed, and so you look for those traits. You do not accept her simply as she is then. I am not sure that makes sense as I've described it, but it does in my head and on the page. I saw more character development here than I have in other "thriller" novels, though, admittedly, not an over-abundant amount. Perhaps part of the issue here is that we do not necessarily see Grace grow into a better person. Rather, we see her journey as she comes to terms with an imperfect life and her status within it - another reason it can be difficult to recognize character development. We as the experiencers of stories do, after all, like to see a character become better. Walter White-like character development is harder to come to terms with. 

Oftentimes, I am averse to plots that jump around through time, but I really liked Scherm's approach and she kept me engaged throughout the book. I read it quickly, always a sign of a hit for me. As for the ending, my guess is it would be controversial when discussed in a book club type setting, but I really enjoyed it. I liked the "happy ending" result that Scherm chose for Grace. I suppose it was mildly predictable, but yet not in a cliche way. As I said before, so much of the book was Grace coming to terms with her place in the world and, in the end, she truly does that. 

Quote I Loved: "It wasn't theater school, but they were all there, she saw, to learn how to act. Everyone, whether from Singapore or Oregon or New Jersey, had come to Manhattan to transform, and each day they tried on their costumes, testing their characters in the classroom before they tried to pass in the real world. They were prototypes of New Yorkers."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Perhaps
If You Liked This Try: Daughter / The Dinner / Gone Girl

A Reduced Review: A unique and thoughtful thriller whose protagonist spends the book trying to find her place in the world, both physically and existentially. 

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