Girls in Trucks is Katie Crouch’s debut novel, and as an example of the craft of writing, it’s not a bad effort. It is primarily the story of Sarah Walters, Charleston debutante and member by birth of the Camellia Society, one of Charleston’s most exclusive social clubs. Sarah grows up in a large house and struggles to find her place among Charleston society as she is neither a beauty nor a brain. She goes to college up North and settles in NYC with a few of her other Camellia Society friends. She dreams of being a journalist but sabotages herself; she is crippled by her relationships with men and has a genius for picking the wrong guy. She drinks too much. She indulges in drugs. In short, she is anything but fabulous. A family crisis brings her back home to Charleston where she must come to terms with the direction in which her mother is determined to take her life. And then…the book ends.
This book perplexed me. I read it in about 5 hours, so it’s a quick read. I read it based on reviews like this one in Entertainment Weekly. I read it because like Sarah Walters, I, too, am a Southern girl and though I was not a debutante, I have friends who were. I read it because I was curious to find out how a modern Southern woman would be portrayed. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
It reads like it was a project for a graduate-level creative writing project. It has shifting points of view and unreliable narrators. A major axiom of writing is to show, not tell, and perhaps it showed too much and told too little. It is crafted like a series of short stories or vignettes sewn together into a book with nothing connecting them but the main character. It feels a little too…modern…for my tastes. It is proud of itself and its cleverness. It has a plot, sort of. Reviews have called it a bildungsroman or coming of age tale. Perhaps a dystopian one for I’m not really certain that Sarah has come of age or learned anything or even developed by the end of the book. Sarah is 35 at the end of the book (it begins when she is around 10), so she is a few years older than I am, and I feel like part of the purpose of the book is for her to speak for a generation of Southern women of a certain age. Well, by God, she doesn’t speak for me.
I don’t understand Sarah’s motivations or lack thereof. She somehow manages to grow up with no confidence or self-esteem despite growing up in a loving, wealthy, socially-prominent family. Cry me a river! I don’t understand why she makes the decisions she makes, and frankly, she’s just a screw-up. God knows that my life hasn’t been a fairy tale, and I’m not necessarily looking for the Disney ending despite what it sounds like, but I don’t think she deserves any kudos for her life. All I ask is a little self-awareness and a little determination to change what you don’t like about yourself. Nothing irritates me more than a person (or character) who admits that they have problems and then do nothing about it. At the end, the novel holds out an opportunity for Sarah to make a freaking good decision, and again, she runs the other way. Is this what the modern Southern woman is? I think not. And I refuse to salute her for it.
Why so disgusted? Obviously I had a strong reaction to this book. First of all, maybe it’s because I have been inundated with Sex and the City commercials and articles everywhere, I couldn’t help but see this book as an attempt to establish a dystopian SATC with Southern characters. Because we all long to move to NYC and be fabulous. Riiiiight. All of the Camellia daughters are screwed up. All of them. And I’m not talking the normal amount of neuroses that everyone has. I’m talking drug problems, alcoholism, abuse, infidelity, doormats, and promiscuity. We’re supposed to learn from this?
There was one part of this book that was stunning…Bitsy, another Camellia and old friend of Sarah, writes a letter to the successor in her husband’s affections that is amazing. If only all of the book had been like that.
What baffles me more is that this novel has received pretty much universally glowing reviews. And I don’t get it. I feel like they read a different book than I did. I didn’t find nearly any of the meaning these reviews ascribed to it, which makes me doubt my own impression. Why did I dislike it so when so many reviewers loved it? I guess… I guess I am out of patience with people who can’t get their lives together especially when I can’t see any reason for their lives to be in such poor shape.
If you liked The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, (another book I didn’t love) you’ll love this book.