For some people it takes years before they can come to grips with the loss of a loved one. Tallulahland is the story of a young woman who’s been emotionally stuck since her mother’s death four years ago.
Tallulah West is the daughter of superstar interior designer Joseph West, and as the story opens she’s a reluctant guest at her father’s wedding. She’s mad that he’s getting remarried, and she also resents the fact that she’s got to come to him to ask for seed money so she can open her own design studio. Rather than deal with her resentments head-on, however, Tallulah does what she’s been doing for the past four years: she sidesteps the issue. She doesn’t ask her dad for the cash, she doesn’t even tell him that she wants to go into business for herself. Instead, she returns to New York, back to her tiny apartment and her dead-end job with a designer who’s known as the King of the Knockoffs.
The arrival of her friend Hannah acts as a sort of catalyst for Tallulah. Hannah’s a neat freak, and as she’s cleaning up the place she runs across the deed to a small piece of land Tallulah’s mother left her. Having been downsized out of her job, and with nothing to lose, Lou drags her pal (never say he’s her boyfriend!) Nick down to North Carolina to inspect this property. What happens on this trip will change Tallulah fundamentally – in her vocation, in her relationships, and in her self-image.
I found Tallulah almost impossible to like. It was like her emotions were Superglued to the time immediately surrounding her mom’s death. At one point she admits that “my mind is filled with old resentments.” Well, yeah, it is – and I got tired of listening to her self-pitying whining about those resentments through the whole book. She keeps a mental list of numbers that, to her, lay out her father’s betrayal of her mother’s memory:
“One thirty-one: the number of days after Mom’s death that Dad left me alone in the Long Island house to sleep over at Carol’s on Christmas. Three forty-eight: the number of days after Mom’s death that Dad gave Mom’s car, a car she’d left to me but Dad kept for himself, to Carol.”
She’s angry at her father for being able to move on after his wife’s death? For heaven’s sake, Lou, you’re twenty-six years old. Develop a little maturity, a little perspective: life goes on, whether you like it or not. You’re entitled to your grief, but don’t hold it against people who pick up the pieces sooner than you do.
There’s no mention at all of what her relationship with her father was like before her mom died: was he an absentee dad? Did he sleep around on his wife? Was he a model of fatherhood? You’d never know, and as a result the strain in the relationship now is baffling. I didn’t care about it, because the author didn’t give me enough to form an opinion one way or the other. All I got was Tallulah’s resentment.
She’s not exactly the brightest gal around, either. She’s not smart enough to figure out that her boss might steal any design ideas she leaves in the office after he fires her. She completely misreads her father’s attitude towards her; on top of that, she’s simultaneously grateful and resentful of any affection he shows her. Make up your mind, Lou! As for Nick – well, let’s just say that where he’s concerned Tallulah suffers from acute, chronic Big-Misunderstanding-itis. And the whole subplot with Hannah (whose antics were, I suppose, meant to be zany but who came off as merely unbalanced and juvenile) served only as a distraction – and not a very welcome one, either. And about that property: did Tallulah not once in four years get any correspondence from anybody about it? A property tax bill, at least? As I said, maybe I’ve had too much life experience, but that was a glaringly obvious plot hole to me.
There’s a character in one of my all-time favorite movies, Office Space, who invents a stupid game called “Jump to Conclusions” – “It’s a mat with conclusions on it that you jump to – get it?” Tallulah West spends almost the entire book waiting for somebody else to make a move, and then jumping to the wrong conclusions about it. I found it hard to like her and hard to care about her. While Tallulahland was a quick read, it wasn’t a particularly rewarding one for me, and I can’t find it in me to recommend it.