I was lucky enough to win a copy of Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel The Girls from Coronal de Mar at Naomi’s blog The Writes of Woman. So, last week, after reading too much crime fiction – I never dreamed this would happen – I longed for the twisted, dark and emotionally haunting story that Naomi had told me The Girls from Corona del Mar was. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Please beware, this review contains spoilers.
Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends: hard-hearted Mia and untouchably beautiful, kind Lorrie Ann. While Mia struggles with a mother who drinks, a pregnancy at fifteen, and younger brothers she loves but can’t quite be good to, Lorrie Ann is luminous, surrounded by her close-knit family, immune to the mistakes that mar her best friend’s life. Until a sudden loss catapults Lorrie Ann into tragedy: things fall apart, and then fall apart further-and there is nothing Mia can do to help. And as good, kind, brave Lorrie Ann stops being so good, Mia begins to question just who this woman is and what that question means about them both. A staggeringly arresting, honest novel of love, motherhood, loyalty, and the myth of the perfect friendship that moves us to ask ourselves just how well we know those we love, what we owe our children, and who we are without our friends.
If you go to my Goodreads account, you will see that I gave this book only two stars, which was not an easy decision. During the first 50 pages I was thrilled, and I wanted to know more about Mia and Lorrie Ann because I thought that the story had great potential. Sadly, once Lorrie Ann and Mia grow up, the story turns two amazing, complex and beautiful characters into stereotypes, only defined by their relationship with and their feelings towards motherhood.
One of the major issues in the book is abortion, which was a very bold and brave move on Thorpe’s part, since this is her first novel. Mia gets an abortion at sixteen and tries not to struggle with the decision her whole life. There is a moment when she speaks about making the decision and how it affected her life, but not so much as to stop her earning a PhD and becoming one well-known specialist in Classic Literature in the USA. However, as she grows up, her view towards abortion turns into an adoration of motherhood, and, eventually, the child she decides not to abort becomes her main reason to live, and changes her in ways she could have not thought possible, such as, she says, making her a better person. It was this development, this idea of women who reject motherhood eventually succumbing and making their children their main reason to live, which made me struggle with book.
Lorrie Ann, on the other hand, goes from a blonde, blue-eyed, adored teenager to a young, miserable young mother to a disabled child. Even though Thorpe makes a great effort to denounce the conditions in which women give birth some times, and in some places – subjected, unable to control their own bodies, medicated, and, many times, ending up unconscious and loosing too much blood – Mia, once a mother, finds yet another reason why Lorrie Ann’s delivery could have gone wrong: she had been abused as a child and she was, as they conclude, ‘fucked up’. So, when she abandons her child – after a passionate speech on her right to freedom and to stop suffering – it is just natural that she was damaged, as a woman and as a mother. This just begs the question: was Lorrie Ann ever what Mia, the narrator, makes of her? Or was she just Mia’s creation? The novel makes a great effort to question how we construct other people, but, eventually, it is Mia’s view of Lorrie Ann that prevails, one that is filtered through her final act of becoming a mother.
But, I need to highlight that the first third of the book is an amazing and it made me appreciate my childhood and my lucky upbringing a lot. Actually, it almost brought me to tears, because I have a loving family who are doing their best to make me happy, successful and comfortable in life. So, I highly recommend The Girls from Corona del Mar if you are willing not to over-analyze the conservative representation of motherhood, but also if you want to be reminded how to appreciate the goodness in your life.
Huge thank you to Naomi for shipping this book all the way from the UK. You can read her review here.