Sunday, January 23, 2011

Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe - Jenny Hollowell

Summary:  Birdie Baker has always dreamed of becoming someone else.  At twenty-two she leaves behind her small-town, small-time life--walking out on her pastor husband and deeply evangelical parents--and boards a bus to Los Angeles.

Seven years later, Birdie's life in Hollywood is far from golden.  Stalled at the margins of fame, haunted by guilt about her abandoned marriage, she is on the verge of collapse when she meets Lewis, a beautiful young actor whose self-destructive impulses run dangerously parallel to her own.  When Birdie's big break finally comes, both she and Lewis find that the Technicolor land of make-believe--and their place in it--is nothing like they had imagined.  (Summary from back of the book, book free for review from Holt Publishing, and image from

My Review:  This book confirmed my belief that I could NEVER be a psychiatrist or a psychologist.  Every time I read about, or listen to, someone who's dealing with mental illness -- the likes of which send the person into immobility, constant negativity, and apathy -- I leave feeling drained.  That's what this book did to me.  I rushed through reading it because I wanted to get it over with, rip that Band-Aid off and move on with life.

Birdie's life is pathetic.  She runs from what she knows to one of the most inhospitable places in the US. (Hollywood) and finds herself fighting all odds to become something she eventually finds she doesn't want.  It's insanity.  She rejects everything she's raised to believe, but then finds herself hating life because she hates life without her religious upbringing too.  I can relate to wanting to get away, find yourself on your own, and make something of yourself that you can believe in.  I can't relate to compromising everything about yourself in order to get what you 'think' you want.  Birdie was left feeling hollow and so was I.  Much of her 'duh, I get it now' moments were things I felt most sane people figure out without putting themselves through Hades.

What Hollowell  does well is her ability to transfer the reader to the crazy-place that is the mind of an unstable person.  You can't help but be sucked into Birdie's depression.  Her writing is well crafted, with imagery, symbolism, metaphors up the wazoo.  While I can appreciate this, it felt over done.  I started skimming sections because I simply did not care about how crazy Birdie's mind had become.  Time and again, I felt the extensive descriptions were ways to make the book longer or stall out the story's progress.  I realize this is a literary device used to help the reader experience the interminable wait Birdie had while trying to make it in show business, but, man, it was ridiculous.

I can see why some people enjoyed the book.  It is raw, real, painful, and, I'm guessing, honest in what the world of Hollywood puts some through.  It also reminded me a lot of the American literature courses I took in college, Hemmingway, Faulkner, etc.-- dark, depressing, and eerily reminds you of the realities of this harsh world.  In some ways, it reminded me of Sylvia Plath's writing in The Bell Jar.  With those comparisons, I think you can decide if this is your kind of book.

Rating: 2 Stars.  Warning: LOTS of swearing, including the most offensive words, and multiple sexual encounters, albeit typically painted with a wide sweep of the brush. 

Sum it up:  A painful, depressing book about a girl who gives up all she knows for a life in the limelight.

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