With a keen sense of detail and a cast of vivid personalities, Cathy Yardley’s Couch World offers a fascinating glimpse into San Francisco’s club scene.
The book details the lives of three very different women. The title refers to the life of P.J., a San Francisco DJ with no permanent home. She spends every night on the couch of a different friend, sometimes depending on her bouncer friend Sticky to hook her up with a couch for the night. She has it down to a science: knowing who has the best couches, careful not to wear out her welcome, keeping her belongings down to a bare minimum. She doesn’t have a regular day job, picking up club gigs whenever she can. Her lifestyle allows her to focus on the music she loves, unencumbered by the usual grind and responsibilities of everyday life. Then she catches the attention of Jonathan Hadeis, a big-name DJ with big-time connections who can move her career to a whole new level.
Leslie Anderson is the personals editor for a small alternative newspaper. At 35, she hates her job, but it’s the closest she’s come to getting work as a writer. She has a boyfriend who loves her, but who seems incapable of growing up. Unsatisfied personally and professionally, she manages to talk the paper’s features editor into letting her do a piece on P.J. If he likes it, she might be able to transfer over into features. If not, she’ll have used up her only shot and be stuck in personals forever. It’s not long before she’s drawn into P.J.’s world, which is so completely different than her own.
Samantha Regales is a college student and aspiring model. A Filipina from a humble background, she is utterly driven to succeed as a model, unwilling to let anything stop her despite one rejection after another. Then she crosses paths with Jonathan Hadeis, the DJ with connections in the modeling industry. He could give her career the boost it desperately needs. She talks him into hiring her to work on P.J.’s image, no mean feat since P.J. doesn’t care about her look one bit.
Couch World is an absorbing read that I breezed through in a couple of hours, caught up in the lives and struggles of its characters. I really enjoy books like this, which immerse the reader in a very specific culture or environment and makes it so real it’s like the reader is there with the characters. Yardley really captures the different worlds the characters inhabit, and in particular brings the club scene to life. She has a strong voice and the story has a very modern, contemporary sensibility that makes it feel realistic as something that’s taking place today, more so than many other Chick Lit or Red Dress Ink releases.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book for readers only interested in likable characters as these three women are quite imperfect, with plenty of flaws. Personally, I’d rather spend time with characters who are interesting over those who always do the right or noble thing, and these three women fit the bill. Samantha is a ruthless schemer, but there’s enough to her that the reader is able to understand her. She’s immature, but not entirely unsympathetic. Leslie can be frustrating, but she’s at the point where she’s starting to realize how dissatisfied she is with her life and trying to figure out what she really wants. P.J. is the book’s most complex figure. I liked her spunk and nonconformist attitude, which is why it was somewhat disappointing when the author took a more judgmental stance toward her near the end. P.J.’s past is a mystery that slowly unfolds over the course of the book. The ultimate revelations about what led her to choose this life will likely comfort and serve as validation for those who believe her lifestyle is unacceptable. I suspect most readers will choose this book, as I did, because they find the idea of her lifestyle appealing, especially since the back cover poses the question, “Ever wondered what it would be like to pack it all in and live the carefree life?” So it was somewhat of an unwelcome surprise, and seems a tad hypocritical, that the book ultimately comes down against that carefree life that’s being used as a marketing tool.
The secondary characters are well drawn, from P.J.’s bouncer friend Sticky (the most likable, level-headed person in the book) to the cruel, unforgiving prima donnas in the modeling world. They’re all realistically portrayed and all too believable. Only Jonathan seems a little murky, not as sharply developed a personality as the rest of the book’s characters.
Couch World isn’t as fluffy as the cover might make it appear to be. It features some hard-hitting moments that are especially effective because of the way the author draws the reader into these characters’ lives. The scenes from P.J.’s perspective are told in first-person, while the segments from Leslie and Samantha’s P.O.V. are in third, but they’re all equally engaging. There are certainly fun scenes, but there are also devastating moments that make this much more than just a lightweight read. No mere slick, forgettable tale, it’s a memorable story with more to it than that. From the thrill of P.J. playing her music to the terror when a set goes wrong, Yardley perfectly captures this world and the diverse personalities that populate it in this fun, compelling and altogether engrossing read.