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Writers & Lovers: A Novel Paperback – February 16, 2021
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#ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick as Featured on Today
Emma Roberts Belletrist Book Club Pick
A New York Times Book Review’s Group Text Selection
"I loved this book not just from the first chapter or the first page but from the first paragraph... The voice is just so honest and riveting and insightful about creativity and life." —Curtis Sittenfeld
An extraordinary new novel of art, love, and ambition from Lily King, the New York Times bestselling author of Euphoria
Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with another instant New York Times bestseller: an unforgettable portrait of an artist as a young woman.
Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.
Writers & Lovers follows Casey—a smart and achingly vulnerable protagonist—in the last days of a long youth, a time when every element of her life comes to a crisis. Written with King’s trademark humor, heart, and intelligence, Writers & Lovers is a transfixing novel that explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.
Praise for Writers & Lovers:
New York Times Bestseller
New England Society's Book Award for Fiction
Named one of The Best Fiction Books of 2020 by Kirkus
One of Washington Post's 10 Best Books of 2020
TODAY SHOW'S #READWITHJENNA MARCH SELECTION
EMMA ROBERTS' BELLETRIST BOOK CLUB APRIL SELECTION
A New York Times Book Review’s Group Text Selection
Amazon Spotlight Selection
Indie Next Pick
Named one of The 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2020 by Entertainment Weekly
Named one of 41 Best Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2020 by Vogue
Named one of 19 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2020 by The Amazon Book Review
Named one of The 2020 Books You Should Pre-Order Now by Marie Claire
Named one of 32 Best New Books of 2020 by Vulture
Named one of The Best New Books in Pick of the Week by People
Named One of Lit Hub's Most Anticipated Books of 2020
“[A] comic and compassionate novel… It shares with [Euphoria] a fascination with the difficulty of defining the worth of one’s life when the familiar markers of adult achievement are slow to materialize. With wit and what reads like deep insider wisdom, Ms. King captures the chronic low-level panic of taking a leap into the artsy unknown and finding yourself adrift, without land or rescue in sight.” —Maureen Corrigan, Wall Street Journal
"I loved this book not just from the first chapter or the first page but from the first paragraph... The voice is just so honest and riveting and insightful about creativity and life." —Curtis Sittenfeld, London Evening Standard
“[D]elightful… [A]n unmistakable broadside against fiction’s love affair with macho strivers, even — or especially — when layers of lyricism and tenderness coat their machismo. The emotional force of Writers & Lovers is considerable…" —New York Times Book Review
“Romance isn’t the point for Casey. Love is the gravy; words are the filet. Finding a way to build a life around work she loves, finding a way to support herself as a writer — this is the line connecting all three corners of the love triangle at the heart of this novel.” —New York Times Book Review, Group Text Book Club
“This smooth, deliberate chronicle of creation keeps the men in their place and Casey firmly rooted at the center of her own story. Instead of casting her as a woman torn between archetypes of male creativity, Writers & Lovers portrays her as a woman in thrall to her own generative processes, a devotee to the art of (her own) attention.” —Los Angeles Times
“Among the elements that make Writers & Lovers so winning are the perfectly calibrated little details, convincing conversations, and droll wit…. Writers & Lovers is a book about passion, desire, grief, determination, and finding one's way. It's also about craving love, family, and success… generously infused with heart and soul and wit and wisdom.” —NPR
“Wonderful, witty, heartfelt… Writers & Lovers is a funny novel about grief, and, worse, it’s dangerously romantic, bold enough and fearless enough to imagine the possibility of unbounded happiness.” —Washington Post
“King has created a woman on the cusp of personal fulfillment and strong enough to stand on her own, someone akin to Sally Rooney’s Frances in Conversations with Friends... But King also situates Casey inside a variation of the which-lover-will-she-choose framework of, say, Nancy Meyers’s film Something’s Gotta Give... The novel is a meditation on trying itself: to stay alive, to love, to care. That point feels so fresh, so powerfully diametrically opposed to the readily available cynicism we’ve been feasting on... King wants us to keep trying, through whatever means necessary, to beat the odds.” —Boston Globe
“[A] poignant and heartfelt novel about the effects of grief and the paths people take to get through life. I couldn’t put the book down…” —Seattle Times
“This novel will become a defining classic for struggling young writers.”—Vulture
"King captures the agita of an early-life crisis and the eccentricities of a writer’s life, spiking the narrative with wit, sumptuous imagery and hilarious skewerings of literary elitism." —People
“King leaves no barrier between readers and smart, genuine, cynical, and funny Casey. A closely observed tale of finding oneself, and one's voice, while working through grief.”—Booklist (starred review)
"[A] charmingly written coming of age story." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[I]ntimate and vulnerable... Lily King's novel follows a deeply relatable protagonist navigating a whole menu of crises surrounded by a cast of genuine, vivid characters... the book occupies a small space, but packs it to the brim with humanity." —Entertainment Weekly
“[A] down-to-earth saga of an extremely bright and likable single woman wrestling with sexual desires, emotional dreads… an engaging portrait of a woman confronting modern hardships.” —Associated Press
“King has portrayed effectively and compassionately with well-crafted prose, evocative descriptions, and spot-on dialogue.” —New York Journal of Books
"[F]unny and romantic and hard to put down, full of well-observed details of restaurant culture and writer's workshops. It's hard to imagine a reader who wouldn't root for Casey." —Library Journal (starred review)
"A knowing look at the pursuit of a life in the arts, with a protagonist you'll root for." —Marie Claire
“Elegant… The nimble, astute narration appeals. This meditation on the passing of youth is touching and ruefully funny.” —Publishers Weekly
“King is one of those rare writers who can entwine sadness, hilarity and burning fury in the briefest of moments.” —BookPage
“[A]n extraordinary novel… King beautifully documents every aspect of Casey’s character. Casey’s insights into the world of writing are fascinating nd often humorous…. The prose [is] linguistically sophisticated, clean and uncluttered.” —Midwest Book Review
“Seemingly light and breezy, the novel has an impressively steely core… Writers & Lovers has one of the most completely satisfying endings around, both surprising and solidly in character.” —Columbus Dispatch
“[R]emarkably funny… full of moments of keen observation, of wry remarks about the challenges of writing and the awkwardness of early love.” —Bookreporter
“Writers & Lovers made me happy. Even as the narrator grieves the loss of her mother and struggles to make art and keep a roof over her head, the novel is suffused with hopefulness and kindness. Lily King writes with a great generosity of spirit." —Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
“Lily King is one of our great literary treasures and Writers & Lovers is suffused with her brilliance. It is captivating, potent, incisive, and wise, a moving story of grief, and recovering from grief, and of a young woman finding her courage for life.” —Madeline Miller, author of Circe
“Gorgeous!” —Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge
"Writers & Lovers is a portrait of the artist as a young woman. Lily King writes masterfully about desire and loss, creativity and inspiration, and how each overlaps and influences the other. I found myself reading slowly, underlining phrases, wanting to linger in the world of this novel. Her insights about love — how it is elusive and ineffable — and about grief — how it is something that you live inside — took my breath away.” —Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World
“Writers & Lovers stole my heart from its first pages. I am in love with this book. In. Love. This deep dive of a novel will stay with me forever.” —Elin Hilderbrand, author of Summer of ‘69
“My favourite of Lily King’s books so far. Exuberant and affirming, it’s funny and immensely clever, emotionally rare and strong. I feel bereft now I've finished.” —Tessa Hadley, author of Late In The Day
"If you loved The Friend but wish it had had more sex and waitressing, get ready for Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. Delicious.” —Emma Straub
Praise for Euphoria:
“Taut, witty, fiercely intelligent… King is brilliant.” —New York Times Book Review
“Intense, seductive, sexual, and intellectual… There are so many exhilarating elements to savor in Euphoria… Brava to Lily King.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“As concentrated as orchid food, packing as much narrative power and intellectual energy into its 250 pages as novels triple its size.” —Newsday
“Atmospheric and sensual… An intellectually stimulating tour de force.” —NPR
Praise for Father of the Rain:
“Surprising and wise…An absorbing, insightful story written in cool, polished prose right to the last conflicted line.” —Washington Post
“King is a beautiful writer, with equally strong gifts for dialogue and internal monologue.” —New York Times Book Review
“Haunting, incisive…King is brilliant.” —Elle
“An excellent novel, sensitive and perceptive.” —Chicago Tribune
- Publisher : Grove Press; Reprint edition (February 16, 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0802148549
- ISBN-13 : 978-0802148544
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.25 x 1 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #25,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #217 in Small Town & Rural Fiction (Books)
- #1,992 in Contemporary Women Fiction
- #2,299 in Literary Fiction (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Reviewed in the United States on July 20, 2022
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A major theme in this book is loss. Casey has recently lost some major relationships that were core to her life. For example, Casey comes home one day and thinks about calling her mom, then quickly remembers her mom has died. If death, loss and/or loneliness are triggering for you, then this may not be your season to read this book.
Loneliness is another prominent theme, as Casey feels alone during much of the novel, and is by herself for a significant portion. That said, Casey grows and develops throughout the story, and she is in a different emotional state by the end of the novel.
At the beginning of the novel there is a sad tone because Casey is desperate to evolve from her college-age like lifestyle to begin her more stable and adult years. Readers get the sense that she is craving a reliable, stable career, finances and relationship. Despite striving and working for years towards all those things, it just hasn’t happened for her yet. Even though at parts in the story it seems like her life is unraveling at the seams, this novel is about the journey of how her adult life path comes together.
In my opinion, King spends somewhat longer than necessary at the beginning of the novel setting the stage. There are lengthy descriptions about Casey waitressing, including describing humdrum everyday behind-the-scene occurrences of working in a restaurant. Readers who have never worked in a restaurant or heard about what it is like may find this interesting, and it does set context for Casey’s actions later. Personally, I have three children who waited tables as teenagers, and I’ve heard enough about it to last my lifetime.
While Casey waitresses for the practical purpose of paying her bills, her actual passion is writing. Casey is unsure about her writing ability and constantly questions her own judgement about her debut novel. While she is dedicated and diligent about writing, she is not confident about her ability and always second guessing herself. I think a lot of readers will relate to being experienced or knowledgeable about something and yet wondering if they are “doing it right” sometimes. Particularly in a craft like writing, where it is done in solitary isolation and then shared when completed. King’s descriptions of a writer’s concerns sounded authentic and I enjoyed reading about what kind of worries go through a writer’s mind.
Another dream Casey has is to have a family someday. When the story begins, she is feeling very lonely and heavy with the loss of significant people in her life, but as it unfolds Casey ends up befriending two men that are potential love interests. A significant portion of the conflict in the novel is Casey’s indecision between two love interests and determining at what point she absolutely needs to make a choice. One of the men is significantly more economically and emotionally stable. He is older than her, accessible, open with his feelings for her, well established in his career and has a history of successful long-term relationships in his past. The way Casey meets him is the perfect opening of a charming romance novel alone.
However, Casey has more chemistry with the other potential love interest. Even though the second man is still working on getting to an emotionally healthy place, struggles with communicating to Casey, is not economically stable and having trouble getting started in his career, she relates to him more and the passion between them is undeniable. He frequently makes her feel unsure about his feelings towards her and whether he even wants to be with her. He is the type of man that has lied to and left Casey in the past, and she is aware of this fact which complicates her decision.
I found myself rooting for one of these men, and Casey does not pick the man I was hoping she would. However, King gives us good reasons for why Casey makes her decision, and ultimately, I agree with the point King makes here. This is the time old tale of choosing between fireworks versus a steady fire. If you enjoy watching TV shows like The Bachelorette where a female character must decide between potential love interests, then you might enjoy reading about Casey’s experience deciding between these guys.
I do appreciate how dimensional King wrote the character of Casey. Generally, I prefer strong female characters that do not require being “rescued” by male characters. I do not enjoy reading about women who spend all their time thinking and talking about men (or a man), which always feels disappointing and sad to me. What I do like reading about are women that are the main character of their own life, and have a lot happening in all aspects of their life. In fact, if the female character can be the one who is doing some “rescuing” then I appreciate the realism.
Casey’s character fit my criteria for a strong female character. While Casey’s love life is a focus of conflict in the plot, there are other significant portions of the plot about Casey’s family of origin relationships, a health scare that she goes through, and her work of both waitressing and writing. I felt that was realistic and it made me care more about Casey’s character. I was reading equally as much to find out how Casey’s novel was received and whether she would get published, and how long she would tolerate the restaurant work environment, as much as I was reading to find out if she would decide to pursue a long term relationship with either of the men in her life. Overall, King created an impressively developed character driven story with emotionally compelling plot.
But if you're the sort of person who throws books across the room anytime a deus ex machina appears ... just skip it, for your own sake. Almost anything good that happens to the protagonist feels painfully forced.
** Many, many spoilers ahead **
Maybe this is book a little bit too realistic, because the depressed/anxious narrator is SO depressed and anxious that she never manages to do anything likable. She just trudges through life in a slow-motion panic. If the book's aim were simply to be an accurate portrayal of grief, this might still be worth reading about -- hell, I loved The Road and it doesn't get more miserable than The Road, right?
But no, against all odds, there's romance mixed in. This woman sounds like she's barely managing to stay upright, but somehow she manages to date not one, but two entire men, who somehow are really interested in her despite the fact that she is plainly decimated by grief to the point of not having a personality. What attracts these men? The exhaustion? The undereye circles? Because both are repeatedly described, by both the narrator and by other people who are startled by how bad the narrator is looking these days.
The source of attraction for anyone involved, including the narrator, is not clear. We only get to witness a few snippets of conversation throughout both relationships, and it's all pretty dull with a few deviations into mild quirkiness. At one point, I was so startled by a man taking ahold of her arms and kissing her that I had to back up and read it again, because their entire brief conversation up until that point was so mundane that I thought I must have missed something. And it was their first conversation, it's not as if there was some additional context to make it believable. But no, he's just reaching for her in the park even though they barely know each other, and she's cheerfully rolling with it instead of screaming, which is what I would be doing if someone came at me after five boring minutes of our first conversation.
Shortly afterward, this man tells her that she is the first woman he's cared about in years, and somehow it's not an epic red flag to this thirtysomething woman that a wealthy man is THIS interested in an exhausted sad waitress, all because they stood in a park and talked about trees for a few minutes.
Eventually, of course, the narrator must make a choice between the man who is wealthy but clearly awful, and the underwhelming man who doesn't bother to communicate well or reassure her at times when anyone with half a brainwave would have been able to deduce that a little reassurance would be appropriate (such as when he doesn't get in touch because he is sick for several days). She chooses the underwhelming one who doesn't know how to use his words or his phone, and Mr. Radio Silence "forgives" her for not trusting him more despite the fact that he gave her zero reason to trust him in the first place. Yay?
If the biggest conflict of the novel feels forced (woman's student loans have left her in dire financial straits because her discovery that her golf-coach dad was a misdemeanor-level perv somehow permanently ruined the entire sport of golf for her?? and also she just noped out to Spain for two years and defaulted on everything because it's fun to make bad situations way worse?), the resolution is even more so: she basically suddenly gets everything she wanted, including a job at an amazing school because somehow, again, there are all kinds of people sprinkled throughout this book who cannot get enough of this woman even though she's too busy stumbling bleakly through a grief-stricken existence to be confident, charming, or clever.
It's at the point when this sad-sack protagonist asks for the exact amount of money she would need to solve all of her problems, and actually GETS THAT AMOUNT, that you start to wonder if you're being trolled. But it's too late now, because that's the end of the book.
Top reviews from other countries
There's something cold about Writers & Lovers, slight and insubstantial. The writing is occasionally quite good, with some amusingly sparky dialogue, but the novel never takes off, the characters a mere watercolor shadow of what they could be. At no point during the novel did I find myself caring what happened to Casey or indeed to any other characters apart from Harry and the two young boys, who were written with the charm that the others lacked.
I really wanted to love this book, and I really was excited when it finally came out - I've been waiting a long time for Lily King's next book - so I admit my expectations were high. Unfortunately, they were ultimately disappointed.