Grace Turner – née Hyde – had it all; or so it seemed. A Hollywood starlet on the eve of a breakthrough into the serious acting world, she was plucked from England via a stroke of luck at the age of thirteen. In acting, she found a way to snag the attention of her parents from her newborn sister as well as the rest of the world. After slowly spiraling into a cocaine addiction, Grace left America and disappeared from the world of acting on a years-long bender, having been thrown out by her parents. As an adult – now sober and returning home to her teenage and very American sister, her depressed mother and chipper father – she hopes to carve a life more ordinary out of the ashes of the past.
Then she gets a call from the IFA awards, requesting she give a lifetime achievement award to Able Yorke, the powerful director who molded Grace into who she is – and whose assaults scarred her for life. Forget peace and a new life – Grace has a fresh plan. One that involves a lot of pain for Able, and a whole lot of revenge for Grace.
AAR staffers Lisa Fernandes and Shannon Dyer both read The Comeback and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Lisa: I have to ask – do you have any familiarity with the Hollywood scandals this book is loosely based on? I drew a dotted line between Lindsay Lohan and Grace immediately.
Shannon: I do, yes. So much of this kind of thing has shown up in the media in recent years, and I have to admit to being a little bit excited to see how it would translate into a novel rather than a news story.
Lisa: Grace is an extremely sympathetic and easy person to love. She won me over with her imperfections. What did you think of her?
Shannon: I, too, found her sympathetic, especially as the story unfolded. At first, she comes off as super spoiled, vapid, and entitled, but then, as the reader gets to know her better, it becomes clear there’s more to her than meets the eye.
Lisa: Grace’s sister Esme seems to be headed down a different and just as dangerous a path as Grace during her own teenage years. Esme does show loyalty to her sister, and Grace has to struggle to get her to open up and re-establish a bond with her. What did you think of their relationship and of Esme in general?
Shannon: I really liked Esme. In some ways, I wondered if she was meant to show us how Grace’s life might have been if she hadn’t been taken to Hollywood. As for the relationship between the sisters, it’s a work in progress to be sure. Grace isn’t always the best big sister, and as a result, Esme isn’t sure she can rely on her. I did enjoy watching them begin to remake that bond, and I’d like to think the work continues after the book has ended.
Lisa: It was touching in its way – and very tentative. The girls’ mother is notably bitter – about Grace’s influence on Esme, and about Grace’s success. Her father seems like less of a character even in flashbacks.
Shannon: We never get to know either parent well, but the mother definitely gets more page time than the father does. She seems like someone who really wants her daughters to love her, but once the family left England, and Hollywood became such a huge part of their lives, she became totally disconnected from Grace and overly protective of Esme. There’s so much that’s unhealthy about the family dynamics in this book, but then, that’s often the way things go in real life, isn’t it?
Lisa: Utterly true, tragically. Grace’s nightmare of a svengali, Able, is a combination of an artiste and an abuser. We get hints of what he’s like as a husband and father – so what did you think of him? I found him to be flat.
Shannon: Able was more of an abstract idea than a fully-fleshed out character. He’s meant to signify everything that’s wrong with the film industry and everything that went sideways in Grace’s life, but we never get to know who he really is, aside from flashbacks and a few brief exchanges in the present. Still, the mere fact of his existence permeates the entire novel, making him an extremely convincing antagonist.
Lisa: Yeah, he sort of stood in for all of the abusers in Hollywood in general – a little Weinstein here, a little Ratner there. And then there’s Dylan – Grace’s first love, her first husband, haunting the back of her head, and then suddenly in her life again. What did you think of him?
Shannon: Poor Dylan! He obviously cares deeply for Grace, but she’s nowhere near ready to be a good partner to anyone. I got the impression he was kind of swept up in all the glamour of Hollywood and never gave any real thought to the tolls it took on the people involved. He seemed to be secure in his own little bubble, and while this didn’t initially make him very supportive of Grace, I got the distinct feeling he was making an effort to do better.
Lisa: Grace’s relationship with Emilia – Able’s wife, enabler, but also in a way his victim – fascinated me. How did you feel about Emilia and her relationship with Grace?
Shannon: Emila exemplifies so much of what we see when this type of scandal comes to light in real life. Part of her seems aware of what’s going on, but she seems unable to allow herself to really confront it. She promised to look out for Grace, but of course, she dropped the ball, and actually stood by and let Grace be abused without doing anything to stop it. There’s a part of me that wants to feel sorry for her, to see her as a fellow victim of Able’s cruelty, but I can’t really do that. She was complicit in so many ways, and she never really owned up to the part she played in everything that happened.
Lisa: I think my biggest quibble with the book is that it’s billed as a thriller and really feels more like a piece of women’s or contemporary fiction. Did you find Grace’s quest for Able as suspenseful as promised?
Shannon: I’m so glad you brought this up because it’s been the figurative elephant in the room throughout the discussion. This feels nothing like a thriller. There’s no real suspense here, and that’s okay; I loved the focus on Grace’s healing and her deep desire to take control of her life. But I think this novel would be better served with a different marketing angle.
Lisa: It’s absolutely women’s fiction or a character study. I’m giving this one a B+ for its general writing quality, but the weakness of Able’s character, the fact that there are no interesting supporting characters and the lack of suspense brought the grade down a bit for me. If you’re looking for a thriller, do NOT buy this book, it’s definitely not that. How about you?
Shannon: I’m also going with a B+. This is an important story, one I think the author handles with a great deal of sensitivity, but poor marketing as well as the lack of likeable supporting characters makes it a little less than DIK status for me.
Note: This book deals with child molestation and the physical and emotional abuse of children, underage sexual content, alcohol and drug abuse
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