Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch

From the back of the book:

Meet Sarah Walters, a Charleston debutante with questionable manners and an inherited weakness for bad ideas. Sarah’s brilliant older sister just dropped out of Yale to run off with an unstable graduate student from Africa. Her beautiful mother lectures her incessantly on the importance of good etiquette but tends to act cold and mysterious after she’s had her nightly gin. Still, Sarah tries to follow the rules set by the Camellia Society, the creators of the debutante code. After all, this is Charleston. Decorum means everything. But it’s not easy to be good, particularly in those summers when she and her friend run into wild Island boys in pickup trucks. When Sarah heads north to college and New York, she finds a world very different from the one promised to her by the Camellias. The girls don’t say “ma’am”; the boys don’t act like gentlemen. And then there’s love, which comes to Sarah in the form of Max, a passionate yet emotionally closed older man who leads Sarah to her dark side and then leaves her alone to find her way back. Events bring Sarah home to Charleston and give her a good, fresh look at her beginnings. The revelation of her mother’s secret – one of many sights now plain to Sarah’s eyes – shows her that the motto of her girlhood, “Once a Camellia, always a Camellia,” has more truth to it than she had ever guessed.

I saw this book on a table at Barnes and Noble and loved the cover, so I put it on hold at the library. It sounds good, right? A few problems with the description.

1. That thing about her mother and the nightly gin? I am not sure it happened in this book. If it did, it was at the very very end.

2. The very very end is basically what the last two sentences are about. The rest of the book is Sarah being miserable and awful and dating terrible men and doing drugs in New York.

3. The book jumps around in that way that literary novels are apparently supposed to do. So it would set things up and then never explain what happened (we knew that the sister was thinking about marrying the unstable graduate student, but we never actually had it confirmed that she dropped out and we never heard about the aftermath until much much later, which was maddening since we’d spent a lot of time setting it up), and we would hear about certain things more than once. It felt like it hadn’t been conceived as a novel but as a bunch of stand-alones, and for that reason it was frustrating to me.

As I was reading it, I kept feeling that, because of the way it was written, this book really wanted to be The Wonder Spot. (See also: Curtis Sittenfeld would like to have written The Wonder Spot.) It wanted to be literary and unhappy and uncertain. And, for me, it wasn’t. The book that’s described up there? That is a book I am interested in. That’s a book I can sink my teeth into – learning to prioritize tradition and being yourself, learning who you are in a strange place, coming home again to find that you have changed while everything stayed the same. The book I got was so unhappy, and Sarah was so unlikable. What Melissa Bank did in Wonder Spot was make the character likable and relatable because of her uncertainty. Sarah didn’t feel relatable to me at all. I just wanted her to stop screwing up.

Girls in Trucks was a fast read, but, for me, it was a disappointment. But that’s okay. It’s the summer. On to the next thing!

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