I have a general ban on Chick Lit in my house—any novel that features a twenty or thirty-something female lead who is struggling with career, love, and/or family woes in the 21st century and also enjoys referring to designer clothing brands on every page is not something I want to read anymore. Chick Lit is definitely a guilty pleasure for me. It didn’t use to be. I remember when the “pioneers” of the genre first came on scene in the late nineties (e.g. Rebecca Wells and Marian Keyes and Jennifer Weiner, to name just a few), I was so excited. Finally! Books by women, about women and the things we really truly struggle with! Of course, then a million other authors jumped on the bandwagon, and very quickly the Fiction section at Borders looked like some sort of pink nightmare. And you know me. Once something gets too popular and mainstream in the book world I begin to lose interest. I make an exception for Jen Lancaster’s fiction because I love her memoirs, and her fiction reads like her blog, www.jennsylvania.com. Here I Go Again is her second foray into fiction writing, and I must say, I quite enjoyed it. It’s not high-end literary fiction, but it’s entertaining, funny as hell, and goes fast. I read the whole thing yesterday. I don’t even know how long it’s been since I read a whole book in one day. It was amazing.
The first thing to know about Here I Go Again is that it has TIME TRAVEL! It’s of the Peggy Sue Got Married variety more than the Back to the Future variety: our “heroine,” Lissy Ryder, was the sort of Mean Girl who puts all the Mean Girls who have ever existed in real life or on the screen or in print to shame. She’s the girl who seduces her best friend’s boyfriend just to prove that he was cheating on the friend. She gives her high school boyfriend (and future husband) the nickname “Duke of Hurl” after she goads him into drinking Jack Daniels, Jolt Cola, and Jaegermeister in one night, then does donuts in her car until he vomits in it and then makes her dad clean out the car the next morning. Oh and her car? Is a hot pink convertible BMW. When Lissy goes to her twenty-year high school reunion she actually gets drinks thrown at her. The time travel part comes in when one of her high school classmates who is now a New Age guru of some sort gives her a magical potion that sends her back in time to right old wrongs, etc. She is in her high school body (hence why it’s like Peggy Sue Got Married), not her adult one. She ends up having to make a few trips back and forth before she finally gets it right—so it’s sort of like Groundhog Day, too, I guess. Ultimately there is the happy ending I expected and that Lissy deserves, though a couple of the intermediate futures she creates are awfully sad. I mean, I actually cried, and not ironic tears. Lancaster does a remarkably good job in the second half of the book of showing Lissy’s character change into a person who actually cares about others and who wants to do the right thing just for the sake of doing the right thing. I believed in the new Lissy, I really did. And when I believed in Lissy I knew that Jen Lancaster, the Governor of Jennsylvania, The Bitch from Bitter (some of her nicknames from her blog), had arrived as a novelist. I am going to miss the hell out of her memoirs, though.
After reading In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, with all of its lyricism it was a bit of a trip to read a book written in very colloquial twenty first century American English, complete with OMG’s and Facebook references. Matt Bell’s novel was essentially without time, but Lancaster’s is very much of a specific time, which I see as a blessing and a curse. It’s fun to read right now, but is going to feel very dated very soon, possibly not in a good way. I doubt that I will ever grow tired of Jen Lancaster’s particular style of prose because I? Think she’s hilarious.