All the Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
My rating: 5/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

oh, good, i get to be the first reviewer of this book on here. that’s not something i usually worry about, but when it’s a potentially controvershul book, i get a little leery of being the only target for potential outrage. i had one of the first reviews of Tampa on here, too, and i know i’m gonna get a reputation for being totes pro-pedophilia if i keep being such an early cheerleader for these kinds of books, but i’ll risk it because this book right here is a stunner.

greg told me i would love it, and here is a reenactment of me reading the back of his copy:

“blah blah blah meth blah blah blah eight-year-old Wavy blah blah blah tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold blah blah blah powerful and shocking love story wait, WHAT?”

and i reared back and gave him my closest approximation of the skeptical single raised eyebrow and i said, “love story?” and greg said, “yeah.” and i said, “between an eight-year-old girl and a grown-ass man?” and greg said, “yeah, kinda.”

and part of me considered calling the authorities and getting him onto some kind of watchlist, but another part of me was naturally intrigued by an author with these kinda balls. with me, balls always win, so greg remains a free man. for now.

this is one of those books whose story, if you heard about it on the news or glimpsed some sensationalist headline, would be horrifying, but in THIS book, with THESE characters, where you are privy to interior monologues and backstories and a hundred examples of what defines them as people, it makes sense. it’s two damaged people finding something in the other that answers a need, and it’s unexpectedly touching. this is not a story told for shock value although it is occasionally shocking, and it should be noted that the book spans fifteen years, and is not quite as disturbing as we all feared, although it still has its moments of readerly discomfort.

still, it’s an incredibly skillful balancing act greenwood pulls off here in terms of addressing the taboo subject matter, which is accomplished by the multiple pov’s: half starry-eyed moodlit gloss and half pulling back and looking hard at this relationship from the outside. it’s so, so impressive. vibrant. heartbreaking. sympathetic.

her writing is astonishing. but it’s not a matter of description or dialogue or something i could demonstrate by snagging a pull-quote or two; her skill lies in the cumulative, not so much the extractable. she is a pure storyteller who has managed that rare (for me) feat of writing a book that cannot be set down without a little regret. i tend to read at an emotional remove so i crave that feeling of being sucked in and consumed by the power of a story or a landscape; i value immersive storytelling over all other writerly skill sets. if you can suck me in, you win – and this one did that for me – i stayed up until 4:30 reading it that first night and then got up again at 6 to resume, resenting that hour and a half of wasted time.

it’s not perfect – wavy’s character is a little unrealistic/inconsistent in her awareness and behavior and the last 1/4 didn’t have the same emotional depth or richness as the beginning, so it read a little thin and rushed, but it’s a badass powerhouse of a book and i am not here to bitch about the trifling. in fact, i’m rounding this 4 up to a 5 because no one can even stop me, and it was probably a 4.5 in my heart, anyway.


plus, maggie likes liked it:

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it’s official – coolest author-present ever!! thank you for this, and for writing this book, o bryn greenwood!!

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read my reviews on goodreads

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