Book clubs come in all kinds of flavors.
Some book clubs are really just a social hour.
There are the ones that meet only as an excuse to drink wine.
A few book clubs — my dream book clubs, especially if they’re designed around memoirs — have themes and decorations and food to match the chosen book.
Some book clubs actually discuss the book!
Sometimes, members of book clubs dwell on the story. Some discuss in detail the writing, reading their favorite lines. Some follow the reading club questions to the letter, some ignore them entirely. Some wish others wouldn’t spoil the story by revealing the ending (I hate those members — it’s a book club! Read the book!).
I found a local book club, just by chance. The flyer posted in the laundry room listed this week’s book, The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon.
(At first I assumed there was a missing article — “a” or “the.” Nope. Beautiful Girl is a character.)
On a quest to read 63 books this year, I took up the challenge of reading the book in time for this morning’s meeting. I downloaded it Saturday and polished it off at 11 p.m. last night (I violated one of my resolutions this year to quit looking at lighted screens after 9 p.m., but I made an exception in this case because I hate it when book club members don’t. Read. The book.)
I’m counting it as “a book by an author you’ve never read before” (PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge). Apparently Simon wrote a memoir about her developmentally disabled sister (Riding the Bus with My Sister) but I haven’t read it.
Similarly, The Story of Beautiful Girl is about a developmentally challenged young woman, only this woman is entirely fictional. She gets pregnant, gives up her baby and loses her true love, a black deaf-mute man named Homan.
Beginning in 1968, the story is about Beautiful Girl, but it’s also about those horrible state institutions where people like Beautiful Girl and Homan were relegated.
Let’s just say, I liked the book club more than I liked the book.
First of all, everyone read the book (except one lady, who hadn’t quite finished yet, but wasn’t one of those overbearing “don’t reveal the ending” types).
We talked more about the story and the setting than the writing, but I picked up a lot of local gossip and neighborhood tips.
Honestly, I didn’t care for Simon’s writing. A lot more “tell” than “show”: “Julia bounded ahead, her green dress, white suede jacket, and patent-leather Mary Janes making her more stylish than most people on the Cape, who preferred blue jeans and light jackets.” No. Please stop. If the patent-leather Mary Janes don’t play a role in the story, I don’t care.
And, like so much fiction I don’t care for, the story was just a little too neat. It reminded me of Forrest Gump — an amazing story, sure, but everything just falls into place a little too perfectly.
Simon, however, does an excellent job of creating suspense, and I was hooked after Chapter 1, even though I quibbled with some of the plot points.
The book has appeal for reader who might know developmentally disabled people because Simon does a decent job of portraying the world from their perspective, but if that’s your interest, I’d recommend John Elder Robison’s memoir Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, which I appreciated more.
On the other hand, if you’re reading it for a book club, it’s worth finishing!