The Year of Living Famously: Please, no.

Because I’m in summer school every day until July 10, I’ve gravitated towards lighter reading, and I decided to read something I bought at the book sale last year.  Laura Caldwell’s The Year of Living Famously is technically chick lit I suppose (is that term pejorative?  I don’t necessarily think it is, but I know some look down upon that type of writing.  I think of chick lit as a sub-genre:  there is a lighter style of writing, romantic pecadillos, sometimes fabulous jobs).  Anyway, the book is about Kyra Felis, a wannabe fashion designer who can’t find any success in her native Manhattan.  She meets Declan McKenna, an up-and-coming actor, and after a whirlwind courtship, she marries him and moves to LA.  He suddenly becomes famous and successful, and she struggles with how fame impacts her life and her marriage.

The book was ok.  It makes a great, quick beach read but has little substance.  Honestly, I didn’t find Kyra very likeable.  First of all, what is this obsession with Manhattan that everyone seems to have lately (Sex and the City et al.)?  I don’t think I’d like LA, but I was irritated by how she constantly compared LA to Manhattan and found it wanting.  Perhaps I have a personal, familial bias against Manhattan 🙂  Ok, yes, I get it that it SUCKS royally not to be able to walk down the street without paparazzi stalking you or seeing rumors and vicious gossip (if not outright fiction)  about your life and marriage treated as fact on tv shows.  And that betrayal (not to mention bona fide stalkers) is around every corner, but come on.  Kyra marries an actor and doesn’t prepare herself for the possibility of what might happen if he becomes successful?  She actually says she would be happy with just a little success and fame.  What planet is she from?  Clearly, this is not Kyra’s fault but Caldwell’s fault in poor plotting and characterization.  Kyra just comes off as a little naive and self centered. 

The structure of the book seemed a bit odd.  It starts in the present with Kyra back in Manhattan, bitterly rueing what her life has become (leading you to think that something really, really bad happened) and then moves to tell the story of that year.  The book ends in the present again as Kyra sort of decides to take control of her life.  But it’s not like any great epiphany happens or anyone tells her she is being a big baby and to get over it.

I did enjoy parts of the book despite my above criticism, and maybe it’s wrong to criticize such a light book so heavily.  But it’s books like this that give chick lit a bad name.  There are much better examples of this sub-genre that aren’t so trite.  Caldwell tries to tell a deep story, but her book only skims the surface.

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