Author: Rufi Thorpe
Rating: 4 stars
It always bugs me to open a library book and find it written in. Why do people think they have a right to mark something that they do not own? It’s even more curious to me when these notes serve as “warnings”, as if an unsolicited three-word review is going to be of any help to anyone decide what or what not to read.
So when I opened Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel, The Girls From Corona del Mar, only to see the endpaper scrawled with: “Depressing! Lewd language!” I was annoyed. And then I knew that I had to read it.
The Girls From Corona del Mar is, at times, depressing. And there is certainly “lewd language” (though to me, it seemed a pretty realistic level for a thirty-something woman. The narrator Mia sounded just like me and my friends). But it is so, so much more than that, a book that surprised me and touched me deeply.
Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends. When they are young, Mia deals with an alcoholic mother, a teen pregnancy and abortion, and chronic feelings of unworthiness, and she elevates Lorrie Ann to a position of reverence and perfection. But Lorrie Ann’s life is far from ideal, as bad luck and tragedy seem to follow her.
I think part of the reason my mystery reviewer was so miffed is that it vaguely sounds like this should be women’s fiction. And please understand that I am not knocking the genre at all when I say this, but you go into women’s fiction with certain expectations about how the relationships will develop and how the end will play out. To me, and why I no longer read it, it has a common element of sentimentality, of comfort and resolution.
The Girls From Corona del Mar is not that. There are no easy answers, no heartfelt resolutions at the end of the book. This is the story of how a friendship falls apart, how you never really know the people you think you are closest to, how people fill the roles you need them to and the dissonance that occurs when they no longer fit. So if what you’re looking for is the challenges of friendship rewarded with a nice, happy ending then it certainly is depressing.
But it’s also beautiful. Mia is a scholar translating epic poetry about the goddess Inanna, and the poetry of this book, the language. My god. Even the “lewd” language has its purpose. It textures the work, grounds what would otherwise be overly-pretentious poetics with a sense of reality.
Ultimately, I connected with this book because of how well I empathized with Mia. Her life experiences were nothing like mine, but I continually felt like I knew her. Like I got her. She has a chronic fear, not that she is simply undeserving of love, but also that she is unable to love, which particularly resonated with me. She often talks about her heart as a “small, dark stone,” and I would stare gobsmacked down at the page, because I have had those same thoughts, those same conversations, more times than I care to remember.
I had a best-friendship that ended badly when I was fifteen, and troubled me for many years after, and though I didn’t realize it until after I finished reading, this book brought all of those experiences back to the surface for me. It was a perfect, painful portrait of what friendship can be, especially friendship between girls, and how they can crack apart. It’s an astonishingly lovely debut, and I hope to see more from this author in the future.