Saturday, July 10, 2010

book review: Everything, Lovely, Effortless, Safe by Jenny Hollowell

Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe: A Novel

The backstory: Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe is Jenny Hollowell's first novel. Her short stories have been published in numerous places, and I remembered her short story in New Sudden Fiction, which publishes short-short stories less than 2000 words.

The basics: Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe is the story of Birdie, a young struggling actress in Los Angeles who left her life as a preacher's wife in Virginia to pursue fame. The quote on the cover nails it: "This novel is smart, spare, comic, and sad. It rings beautifully true." - John Casey

My thoughts: Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe is not a novel that grabbed me a reader right away. I enjoyed Hollowell's writing, but it took me quite some time to care about Birdie, the main character. The novel initially reads like short stories, and the shorts chapters in this novel would almost all fall into that category. (The book is 220 pages and has 79 chapters, some as short as one sentence). Unlike the most famous short chapter writer, James Patterson, Hollowell's brief chapters were at times more interesting and insightful than the longer ones. She clearly and consciously chose the time and way to break up the action and character development. The results were wonderful if you're a fan of the construction of fiction. If you're a fan of plot, then this novel might not excite.

As the novel continued, a clearer picture of Bridie emerges, and the novel really came alive for me. I enjoyed Hollowell's writing throughout, despite a few first coming of age novel cliches. As the novel progresses, the reader gains a better picture of Birdie than she has of herself. Each chapter provides a different snapshot of Birdie, and many of these, especially early on, are not linear. It's a deceptively dense novel, and it's not a novel full of action. I laughed out loud at times, I underlined especially poetic passages, and it's taking immense restraint to not share the novel's last lines with you. Their beauty is more exquisite at the end of the book than without reading it.

The verdict: If you're a fan of unconventionally structured novels, character studies and short stories, you'll enjoy Everything, Lovely, Effortless, Safe. If you're a fan of action and a traditional narrative, then this novel may not entice you. I'm already looking forward to more novels from Jenny Hollowell.

Rating: 4 stars
Length: 220 pages
Publication date: June 8, 2010
Source: I received a copy from the publisher via Library Thing Early Reviewers

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