I'm a not die-hard fan of Kid Cudi, but one song that I can listen to on repeat is "Pursuit of Happiness." Reading Writers & Lovers, I kept thinking of this song and how it translates to Casey's journey. She is the main character, a writer and a lover wannabe, pursuing her happiness, despite life’s obstacles.
And this is what the book is about: life.
Casey, a 31-year-old woman—I first wrote 'girl' because she's younger than me, and sometimes I refuse to see myself as a grown-up woman, but anyway—knows what she wants, but things aren't easy for her. She's dealing with the recent death of her mother. She is working at a high-end restaurant as a waitress to pay for her student loans and has to deal with some nasty people. She is heartbroken by the end of a romance with a poet she met at a writer’s retreat who seemed to be the perfect man until he wasn’t. She's been struggling for six years to write a novel. And everything begins to affect her health, but Casey can't see a doctor because she can't afford health insurance. So, like the majority of us, she's not where she thinks she should be in life. Yeah, because we all have the stupid need of comparing ourselves with others—damn you Instagram—and her friends are in serious relationships or getting married, employed, and with houses of their own, while Casey is still pursuing her dreams.
So Casey is me. She's you. She's everyone who is thirty-ish years-old and has dreams, refuses to give up, but has to have a plan B and C. Giving up means that all her struggles were for nothing. She (we) can't accept it. Casey is a relatable and quiet character that can grab your attention, and you care for her. You want her to succeed.
The book Writers & Lovers is about her mundane life, but Lily King does it with precise observations and analyzing the world we live in, and she does it all with such beauty and tact. What you get from that is a narrative that turns out to be a smooth trip sometimes and a tumultuous one other times.
The first 50 pages were neither smooth nor rough but tiring because the author presented too many characters, and I was confused about who was who until I got to the point that I quit and only paid attention to those who were mentioned more times. Overcoming that, the journey was a wonderful one.
Part of the turbulent episodes belongs to her romantic life, where she is torn between two men: Oscar, an older and successful writer, widowed with two kids, and Silas, another fellow writer with depressive tendencies. The romances are believable, in the way that they do not present themselves as shining knights ready to rescue her. Maybe she is the one who can save them.
Deciding between the two of them is not an easy decision, as her work colleague states:
“'It's always a choice between fireworks and coffee in bed,' Fabiana says. 'It always is.'”
King writes about the patriarchal society we live in:
“I squat there and think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel.”
As a woman, we know it's true. We are not only a human being. Having chromosome XX implies you don't own your body, your ideas, your dreams, and we want it to be different.
And women can be ambitious, but not too much, unlike men: “Nearly every guy I've dated believed they should already be famous, believed that greatness was their destiny and they were already behind schedule. An early moment of intimacy often involved a confession of this sort: a childhood, teacher's prophecy, a genius IQ. At first, with my boyfriend in college, I believed it, too. Later, I thought I was just choosing delusional men. Now I understand it's how boys are raised to think, how they are lured into adulthood. I've met ambitious women, driven women, but no woman has ever told me that greatness was her destiny.”
This clinical truth about things we already know is not exaggerated, but necessary, expecting that the repetition of the message leads to mastery—in this case, that you can interiorize it and act accordingly to change it.
This condescending behavior is something you assist every day, replicated by Casey's landlord, when he says to her: “I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say,” but that’s no more discouraging than her internal doubts. Sitting at her desk later that day, she confesses,
“I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse.”
When I read it, I felt wow, this is something. It was pure honesty and came from a place of vulnerability. I think we all have something that we use as an escape or as a connection to reality and you can relate to her commitment to that.
The book also thoughtfully describes her frail relationship with her parents. The main character has an almost non-existent relationship with her father, who always pressured her to be a golf player, although she doesn't want to, and he lost a teaching and coaching job because he was peeping into the girls’ locker room. Her mother died suddenly during a trip to Chile with friends and that has a big impact on her life, feeling somewhat lonely and craving for love. The parts detailing her loss are never over the top, but the grief is palpable and touching.
In the end, you get a satisfactory and genuine ending to the story, which is all you want for such an authentic and compelling character. Casey is what you want in a protagonist, someone who doesn't have all the answers, but fights within her power for what she wants and gets to a place that is not perfect, but it's real.
And I can imagine Casey singing Kid Cudi's song:
"I'm on the pursuit of happiness, and I know
Everything that shine ain't always gonna be gold,
I'll be fine once I get it
I'll be good"
Writers & Lovers
By Lily King
256 pages. 2020.