Marian Keyes writes clever dialogue, realistic characters, and relatable yet entertaining plots. Similar enough to our lives to relate, but different and exciting enough to draw us into her fiction. She captures relationships of all types so well: familial, platonic or romantic ones. In Anybody Out There? we follow Anna Walsh as she recuperates from an accident with her family in Ireland, all the while wishing she is back at her fabulous job and life in New York City.
Not much background on her accident or life in New York are shared with us at first, so we really get to know her kooky family and life in Ireland. I can see why three other books have been written about Anna’s sisters, they are all such characters!
Here is the thing though, the summary of the book on the back cover was TOTALLY MISLEADING! I was expecting a Bridget Jones or Shopaholic type book, when really I should have had the kleenex box handy. This is not a light Chick Lit read, but a poignant and darkly humorous look at struggling with grief, tragedy and relationships with friends and family.
Here is the summary:
Life in the Big Apple is perfect for Anna. She has the best job in the world, a lovely apartment, and great friends. Then one morning, she wakes up in her mammy’s house in Dublin with stitches in her face, a dislocated knee, hands smashed up, and no memory at all of what happened. As soon as she’s able, Anna’s flying back to Manhattan, mystified but determined to find out how her life turned upside down. As her past slowly begins coming back to her, she sets out on an outrageous quest—involving lilies, psychics, mediums, and anyone who can point her in the right direction.
So um, she doesn’t have amnesia actually and her quest is more bittersweet than “outrageous.” I can’t say any more than that without spoilers since we don’t find out what the real deal is until almost 200 pages in.
But seriously the writing is brilliant, and super funny. Keyes just “gets it” for me, like when describing one of Anna’s dates she gets the imagery, pop culture references, and comedy all once:
I prepared for my date with Greg, the baker from Queens. Although it was October and far from warm, he’d suggested a picnic in the park…
Reclining on the rug, Greg opened his basket, took out a loaf, then closed the basket quickly, but not before I’d seen that all that was in it was loads of bread.
“This is my sourdough,” he said. “Made to my own recipe.”
He tore off a bit, in a real bon vivant’s way, and approached. I could see the way this was going: he was planning a seduction via bread – once I’d tried his creations, I’d go all swoony and fall in love with him. I was dealing with a man who’d seen Chocolate once too often.
“Close your eyes and open your mouth.” Oh, cripes, he was going to feed me! God, how excruciating, how 9 1/2 Weeks.
But he didn’t even let me eat the damn thing. He rubbed it around inside my mouth and said, “Feel the roughness of the crust on your tongue.” He moved it back and forth and I nodded yes, I was feeling the roughness.
Oh God, this was a public place, I hoped no one was looking at us. I opened my eyes and shut them again quickly: a woman walking her dog was in fits. Her hands were on her knees she was laughing so much.
I would have had my hands on my own knees if I wasn’t sitting down when I read this! Hilarious.
But Anna’s friendship with Jacqui was also captured so well, with all the little details that show how complex women friends can be, and how special these little details make it. Like inside jokes, there are a couple words or phrases that my friends or hubby and I use that will always make me laugh, and Jacqui and Anna were just the funniest together. My favorite bit of theirs seems to be inspired by some real life friends of Keyes as she notes in her acknowledgements-she gave thanks to two friends, “for virtual support, New York information, and, most of all, the Feathery Stroker™ rant.”
So here’s the Feathery Stroker deal-Anna’s just gone a first date with a guy named Aiden and is discussing it with her friend Jacqui when we learn of the Ultimate Inside Joke:
I set my jaw and held her look, “He is not a Feathery Stroker.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” replied Jacqui.
Jacqui’s Feathery Stroker test is a horribly cruel assessment that she brings to bear on all men. It originated with some man she slept with years ago. All night long he’d run his hands up and down her body in the lightest, feathery way, up her back, along her thighs, across her stomach, and before they had sex he asked her gently if she was sure. Lots of women would have loved this: he was gentle, attentive, and respectful. But for Jacqui it was the greatest turn off of her life. She would have much preferred it if he’d flung her across a hard table, torn her clothes, and taken her without her explicit permission. “He kept stroking me,” she said afterward, wincing with revulsion. “In this awful feathery way, like he’d read a book about how to give women what they want. Bloody Feathery Stroker, I wanted to rip my skin off.
And so the phrase came about. It suggested an effeminate quality that instantly stripped a man of all sex appeal. It was a damning way to be categorized and far better, in Jacqui’s opinion, to be a drunken wife beater in a dirty vest than a Feathery Stroker.
What followed was a whole list of the Feathery Stroker criteria you really have to read it, it is so funny!
But the funny didn’t last forever. While I thought Keyes’ writing remained clever and insightful it was just very sad and it was harder for me to deal with because I didn’t expect it. Maybe 0-1% of my reading is “sad” I just don’t prefer to read that type of stuff. The book was seriously so good, and did get me to think about how people handle tragic situations, that I would absolutely recommend it. As long as you know what you’re in for! B grade for me and I will absolutely be reading more of her stuff.