I’m reading on kindle (actually kindle reader on my phone), so no page numbers for this one. Chapter one is 6% of the book, about 12 “pages” on my phone; I’ll try to stop at natural section breaks or chapter breaks like I do with TPD.
There are thirty-seven chapters in this book, plus a reading group guide and about the author.
First sentences often give you a first impression about the book; here’s this book’s opening gambit:
When I saw a group of my neighbors clustered on the sidewalk in front of Mrs Cho’s house, I was sure they were talking about me.
Right from the get-go our protagonist is suburban (neighbors live in a house rather than an apartment building) and narcissistic (sure they’re talking about her). She lives someplace where people with typically Chinese surnames live, as there’s at least one “Cho” on the block, probably a “Cho family” given the title “Mrs”. Also she lives in an English-speaking country, given the terms of address. She lives someplace where people know their neighbors, again pointing towards the suburbs, and where they stop to gossip on the sidewalk.
The first sentence is also the entire first paragraph.
It was a sunny spring evening, and I was heading out to meet my friend Piper at a local bar. After work, i’d changed into a lacy tank top and short skirt, then slipped my feet into a new pair of strappy sandals. A quick look in the mirror to touch up my makeup and I was set.
Another name: “Piper”. This is probably California, which has both a large quantity of Chinese-Americans and a fondness for offbeat names like “Piper”.
Notice that we get a description of the protagonist’s clothing before her physical appearance, and of course she has to have perfect makeup, because that’s what suburban women do. At least we know the time of year and weather, even if we have no idea what the protagonist looks like or is named (unless we read the back of the book blurb).
Despite my efforts, it was a sure thing Piper would look better than me, no matter what she was wearing [...] not her fault, but still annoying.
The protagonist continues to be vain and self-centered.
Piper would look better than me, no matter what she was wearing — ironic considering she’s the one that’s married with a baby, while I, on the other hand, am currently and constantly unattached.
Everyone knows being single is the worst thing a woman could be. Obviously, Piper managed to escape this fate by being beautiful. The protagonist is more average and thus failing at the dating scene. Like you, single unmarried white suburbanite in her mid-twenties, hereafter known as Target Demographic!
I’d pictured a brisk walk to burn a few calories and hoped I might even collect a few admiring glances on the way
Jogging is popular among Target Demographic women, right? Obviously they must be using it to meet men. There’s no other reason to leave the house.
But springtime in Wisconsin doesn’t necessarily mean warm weather.
Wisconsin? Go figure. I did not expect that. Mrs Cho is (presumably) part of the 2.3% of Wisconsinites who report themselves as being of Asian descent rather than being short-hand for Bay Area. Yay diversity!
As I approached the group, Crazy Myra
woh’d been leaning forward to whisper something to Brother Jasper,
Wait, what? Does she live next door to a monastery? Wisconsin is something like 35% Catholic, so possibly, but that just seems odd. Maybe it’s a clue she herself is Catholic and thus thinks of him in terms of his rank within the church? Catholics still count as a minority, right? Yay diversity!
Belinda, the dog woman,
Is that like being a cat lady? Or is she just “the woman who is walking her dog”?
and Mrs Cho
Thus explaining why they’re in front of her house. All four ladies straighten up and look suspicious as our unnamed protagonist approaches. And here we get to the first thing I can personally relate to in this book: feeling awkward in a social situation.
My plan was to smile and nod, and then circle around them, but I was stopped by Mrs Cho, who grasped the fabric of my top with her bony fingers.
Oh god don’t touch me. Seriously don’t grab someone like that.
“Pretty,” she said. For such a tiny lady, she had one hell of a grip.
“Mighty fine,” Brother Jasper said. And then he added, “Lola, you look like springtime.”
Not someone who’s taken vows of chastity I presume. Beside that point, what does ‘springtime’ look like in terms of clothing? Does this top, in addition to being lacy, have flowers on it? Or does he mean her face looks like springtime? Is that a Wisconsin phrase I’ve just not heard before?
But hey, we have a name! Lola. And it wasn’t too contrived, nor did it take too long to come out. Points for that.
She’s asked where she’s going “all dressed up”, and she struggles to find a socially appropriate lie:
“I’m meeting a friend for dinner.” The part about dinner was a lie. We were really meeting for drinks, but I hated to say that because it sounded trashy. I suddenly wished I’d taken Piper up on her offer of a ride.
I wouldn’t have figured going out for drinks with a friend sounded ‘trashy’, but Lola Bunny here knows the neighborhood better than I do, so maybe it’s not done as often in her neighborhood.
At the office I’m known for having a take-charge personality, but socially I’ve always been a little unsure of myself, and these neighbors put me on edge.
Almost we were doing well with the “show not tell” doctrine: we can clearly see that she’s socially awkward, and it makes sense to contrast it with her work life if we won’t see her work life for a while, but the need to blatantly state the obvious, that the pushy, nosy neighbors set her on edge, grates at me a little.
They were always a little too eager and a little too Stepfordish, always stopping by to offer me cookies or invite me to the latest neighborhood gathering
Wait, they make her nervous because they’re…. friendly? And bring cookies? Who do I have to kill to get neighbors who bake me cookies?
If they noticed a candy wrapper on my front lawn, they stopped to pick it up.
Neighbors who dislike litter? Gasp! The horror!
If I struggled with heavy grocery bags, they were right there to help.
And they help carry heavy things! If they can reach tall shelves and kill spiders, you almost don’t even need a man!
I’d lived in the house for four months and I still wasn’t used to it.
Oh. So the real issue is culture shock. That’s more understandable but, honey, that’s not their fault.
Growing up in the suburbs,
Wait, so where does she live now then? Oh god, has she moved to Ashton?!
Hey look, a physical description!
[Brother Jasper] was my favorite of the bunch, not too intrusive but still friendly, always with a ready smile, his perfect teeth blindingly-white against his mahogany-colored skin.
Another minority! Though now I’m starting to get an after-school special feel. Wisconsin is 86% white. The demographics are going to skew for small groups, but if literally every character is nonwhite, I’m going to be a mite suspicious of the author’s motives. Still, it’s nice to see some POC in the “extras” cast, that doesn’t usually happen; usually they’re the Token Minority character.
Still I steered clear of him, always fearful he’d try to get me to go to his church-of-the-folding-chairs with the Styrofoam-cup coffee social they held afterwards.
On the one hand, I can sympathize. I hate being preached to or guilted into attending a church service. On the other hand, what, his church isn’t good enough because they have folding chairs and Styrofoam cups? The only churches worth going to have dedicated buildings and china? It’s very likely that his church is underfunded because it’s seen as catering to minorities. For shame, church bigot Lola.
I’d inherited the house form my great-aunt May, and everyone on King Street assumed we’d been close. In truth, I hadn’t known her all that well.
Wow. This is the luckiest protagonist ever. An aunt you know from weddings and funerals suddenly leaves you her house?! Do want.
in a great location — just half an hour from downtown
How is that not a suburb?
and blocks from the lake
Lakefront property is expensive as shit. Maybe it’s a gated community?
Without a leash or two to hold on to, [Belinda]‘s hands moved in spastic jerks, seemingly involuntarily.
Ableism yay! Also, I guess she is the canine version of a cat lady. Great. So our protagonist is openly blaze about her privilege AND overly judgmental of others. I’m beginning to see why Kae “recommended” this to me.
Anyway, they’re trying to invite her to the block party, which has bands and carnival games and food.
“It’s the high point of my summer.”
Somehow I didn’t doubt that.
What, pray tell, is that supposed to mean, young lady! Honestly, would it kill you to be a little open-minded and tolerant? These people are inviting you to a PARTY! Not only that, they insist they didn’t want to plan it until they knew what her schedule was like so they could be sure she could make it, because they don’t want to exclude the newcomer. All she can think of is that they’re trying to get her to volunteer something for it.
Aha! Three asterisks! That means a section break, which means I’m freee~ See you next week for the Introduction of Piper