Once in a while you come across a novel whose protagonist is so engaging that you find yourself thinking, Oh no! or Don’t do that! interspersed with sighs of relief and some heartfelt rejoicing when things go right for a change. Lily King’s Writers & Lovers is one of those novels.
Casey Kasem, née Camila Peabody, is a struggling writer trying (and failing) to make ends meet as a waitress, living in her landlord’s converted shed and walking his dog in the morning to get a break on the rent. She lacks health insurance. She’s $70K in debt, and though she has many supportive friends, her love life is a shambles. On top of this, her beloved mother recently died, suddenly and prematurely, and no one seems to know why. Casey’s father, a pervert who’s bitter over Casey’s failure to become a golf pro, is a waste of space.
King is one of those rare writers who can entwine sadness, hilarity and burning fury in the briefest of moments. There’s a lot of this in her restaurant scenes, which are so finely observed that you may wonder if King ever worked in a sad little eatery once upon a time. Though some of Casey’s co-workers are funny and caring, others leave her quivering with rage. The moment when she finally quits (or is fired) will make you want to put on Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” and dance around the room.
Casey’s story, like so many stories in real life, is messy. She’s messy. But Lily King’s book isn’t. It’s a pleasure.
King’s other characters are just as well drawn, including Oscar, Casey’s somewhat older lover. He’s a successful writer, a widower, a Kevin Costner look-alike and father of two adorably rambunctious boys. Then there’s Casey’s other lover, Silas, who’s younger and unsettled. King doesn’t hesitate to bring up how financial insecurity impacts love; should Casey move in with Oscar and the boys just because she’s about to be evicted and can’t afford rent? Nor can Casey choose whether to write for love or money; she has to write for both reasons.
Though the year is young, this reviewer thinks the word for 2020 is going to be “messy.” Casey’s story, like so many stories in real life, is messy. She’s messy. But King’s book isn’t. It’s a pleasure.