Up and Out
Remember the first time a pimple appeared the morning of a super-special evening? There it was, smack dab in the middle of your nose and you had a prom to go to that night. Would your light pink dress match the angry red zit? Could you get through the evening without anyone mentioning Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? You had never felt more miserable. That emotion, the Agony of the Pimple, is one of the defining characteristics of Chick Lit: Making the reader feel as if the most minimal event is actually the Second Coming of the Apocalypse. Ariella Papa’s second Chick Lit novel, Up & Out, makes a valiant effort to dramatize the Agony, but never makes the reader feel that the heroine’s life and circumstances are all that important.
Children’s television producer Rebecca Cole is on the fast track to a successful career as the creator of an animated twelve-year old heroine named Esme (sort of like MTV’s Daria, but younger) who has wormed her way into her audience’s hearts. In her personal life, Rebecca has all the usual detritus of a contemporary NYC heroine in her late twenties: A small, expensive apartment with a roommate; an obsession with fine dining; friends who are flailing just as much (though differently) than she; and an ex-boyfriend she eventually moves in with to save money on rent (unheard of in places other than the most real estate crunched cities).
While Rebecca tries to figure out how to manage her new staff, make her production schedule on deadline, pick out a flattering bridesmaid dress for her friend’s wedding – all the while wondering why her roommate is moving to Cape Cod to watch birds – her network is taken over in a corporate merger and she gets a new boss. Eventually, Rebecca is squeezed out by a combination of office politics and her own twenty-something hubris, and she loses her job. Now unemployed, she is free to wonder just what is happening in her own life and exactly how she can fix it.
It takes some time for Rebecca to lose her job, although the reader knows it is an eventuality – even without reading the back cover copy. The office action drags as every detail of every day is discussed, and that over-attention to detail is also exhibited in other scenes. The author’s writing skill and obvious feel for her characters make those details sing, even as they bog down the action. For example, describing each and every one of Rebecca’s meals out, while interesting, is not necessary. The first sentence makes Rebecca’s food obsession abundantly clear: “I like to think of money in terms of the rock shrimp tempura at Nobu Next Door.” An awesome opening, and one that defines Rebecca for the ensuing 300 pages.
Rebecca’s conflicts – what is up with her friends, why aren’t things with them like they used to be, will her ex-boyfriend become her boyfriend again, will she get a job, will she meet someone – are certainly important, but it is hard to feel Rebecca’s Agony as painfully as she must. Instead of floundering (too much) in her misery, however, Rebecca does something to change her future and, by the end of the book, recognizes some of her own driving instincts: The need to be independent, the need to assert herself, and the need to exercise if she is going to eat like a gourmand and not weigh 300 pounds. It was hard not to like Rebecca, although it was just as easy to question her choice of friends.
Up & Out is very well-written with a fantastic attention to detail about what a twenty-something’s life in NYC is really like. It does not sufficiently capture the Agony of Life, but it does allow the reader to spend time with an interesting, quite real character and watch her discover what is important in life, and what is not.