Going in Circles
At a time when she should be happy, Charlotte Goodman feels like her life is imploding. Her months-old marriage is falling apart, and her potentially soon-to-be ex-husband alternates between being affectionate and distant. She can’t decide whether to stay with her husband or leave him, and she can’t bring herself to tell her parents the truth about her marital problems. Her job bores her, and her demeanor at work is so dour that her co-workers have nicknamed her “Ghost Girl.”
Charlotte’s breakdown happens at a party hosted by her boss (and her husband’s best friend’s wife), and she’s rescued by Francesca, a punked-out co-worker who listens to her problems and offers her sane, sensible advice, as well as some tough love. Despite their outward differences, Charlotte recognizes a kindred spirit in frank, sarcastic Francesca, and her direct approach helps Charlotte start to pull out of her slump.
But Charlotte notices one unsettling thing about her new friend: strange and frequent bruises. By way of explanation, Francesca introduces Charlotte to the thing that will be her ultimate salvation: roller derby. Francesca’s a trainee on a local team, and Charlotte quickly becomes addicted to the adrenaline rush and the camaraderie of the sport. As Charlotte lets go of her confusion and anger on the track, she finds herself physically battered, but emotionally better. Her teammates become the informal support group that she needs, and Francesca becomes her cheerleader (albeit a Goth-y cheerleader), urging her to make the tough decisions she needs to make in order to move on with her life.
It’s refreshing to see a chick lit heroine who isn’t just a designer label whore. Charlotte has depth. Sometimes she’s wise, and sometimes she needs a guide to see the obvious — just like a real person. Her reactions to the people around her are natural and realistic, not reduced to the series of clichés and overblown scenarios that have plagued similar novels. I appreciate that Charlotte finds her salvation through friendship (and friendly rivalry) with over women. The author could have easily extended the novel another thirty pages and given Charlotte a new boyfriend, but it wasn’t necessary. The ending leaves readers with the impression that Charlotte is still healing, but that she is going to be fine, and that her life is full of potential.
There were a couple of moments that I could have done without — including the “big reveal” of why Charlotte and Matthew’s marriage derailed in the first place — but overall, Going in Circles reminded me why I used to be a huge fan of chick lit. There’s no walking-stereotype gay BFF, no mean girls, no obsession with shopping — just a story of a young woman whose life has taken some unexpected turns. Ribon has taken us back to chick lit basics, and the floundering genre is all the better for it.