Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sherry and Narcotics

In a full-blown bout of book bitchery I left this novel on my shelves for far too long. I received an ARC, it's got an ugly (in my opinion!) cover, I made assumptions based on the title.

I'm an ass. I admit it.

Somehow I FINALLY got over myself and picked up Nina-Marie Gardner's first novel, Sherry and Narcotics, while I was reading Sarah Addison Allen's, The Peach Keeper. Whoa, what a move on the part of the universe. Addison is sweet, Gardner salty. Addison sentimental, Gardner balls-to-the-wall raw. It was a perfect pairing and Gardner actually came out the fresher breath of air in this situation.

Mary is an American newly out of graduate school and living illegally in London. She works online editing college entrance essays for international students bound for Harvard and the like. She's also a raging alcoholic, totally in denial. Her father has died, her relationship with her mother is distant and cold, and she ends up corresponding with a dreamy poet via e-mail and text messages. They end up meeting and starting an affair and the proverbial "train wreck" begins.

Nicole from Linus's Blanket describes Gardner's writing as "ridiculously addictive," and I'm going to have to hunt Nicole down and figure out how she snatched that description straight out of my brain! There's just no other way to put it.  In the early pages of the book I was slightly annoyed with Gardner for writing what seems to be a highly biographical novel about a torrid affair and addiction (per some interviews I read), but two chapters in I was totally onboard for the train wreck.

Gardner's strength is in writing the addict's life and conveying it as perfectly normal. At first, as I was reading through Mary's adventures with wine, I thought she was probably drinking a bit much, but she seemed to keep it indoors and function pretty well. But by the end of this book, she's a sad sack. She wears rose-colored (wine-colored?) glasses throughout her relationship with the poet and leaves the reader wondering how in heckfire she ever thought THIS and THAT were good ideas! I'll say it again -- train wreck!

Overall, I liked Mary, and I could relate to her on some level, as I think any college girl with low self-esteem has done some pretty stupid relationship things. Mary's dilemma was amped up by her addiction to a level I'm certainly glad I've never experienced. As for the poet in her life, I wanted to kick him in the crotch.

I have to hand it to Gardner, she sucked me right into her prose, and I never looked back. This novel is marketed as "chick lit noir" on some of the materials I received, and while I'm resistant to that label, it's an interesting one for certain. I still struggle with the term "chick lit" all around as it seems unnecessarily dismissive and condescending. This novel is representative of a darker "young woman with relationship" novel, though I'd be terribly remiss to stick any labels on it. Whatever one chooses to call it, it's an involving, provocative novel. I will happily read more of Gardner any day.

Thanks to Meryl Zegarek Publications for thinking of me for this review opportunity!

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