I’m a couple of days late on this (it published on June 14th) and for a couple of different reasons.
One: I got COVID last month. On May 16th, I started feeling like I couldn’t focus on anything and wasn’t executing with the efficiency I expect of myself. I tested positive on May 18th and I think I had a relatively easy time of it. Yes, I was sick, but it came and went within the expected timeline and I was thankful that I never had any moments when I was worried for my overall health. That said, Tuesday this week – a nicely rounded thirty days later – was the first time I felt some of the haziness lifting and my productivity coming back. I thought that if I ever got it, I’d take advantage of it by reading non-stop, but, in fact, I could hardly focus to read at all.
Two: This book is pure gold. I read each story and then I read it again. And, in some cases, I read it a third time. So, in essence, since starting this book on May 18th (according to my goodreads,) I have read it at least 2.5 times over. It was everything I loved about the authour’s previous works, but in compact form over and over again.
Ghost Lover is the third book by Lisa Taddeo. This collection of nine short stories confirms that Taddeo’s books to date have each fallen into a different genre. Three Women (2019) was non-fiction and Animal (2021) was fiction so adding a short story collection to the mix really shows off her versatility and the thread that runs through all of her books and genres is her impeccable skill in writing the real experience of ]modern women. As can be expected, this is widely praised and occasionally criticized by folks who have cookie cutter expectations for what women feel and how they act in response to that. (I sometimes use Animal as a gauge for whether someone might have the same tastes in fiction as I do.)
In reference to her writing, Taddeo has this to say (here):
… it’s meant to make people feel less alone, not to point fingers. I’m not telling people how to feel, I’m saying this is how I’ve felt or this is how women I know have felt. I also think that culturally we have a problem with simply walking away from conversations or topics we don’t want to be a part of — instead of walking away, we get upset and tell other people what not to talk about. That’s more of the same subjugation, it’s just more shaming.
It took me a long time to move on from the title and first story, Ghost Lover. This was the first one I read three times over and I was just so into it and the life of the main character.
You nod. You resolved a week ago to stop saying thank you. to be icier in general. The decision was made on a day that you sliding door was open to your balcony and a strange bird whined at a distance. The noise of it made you want to pluck its eyes out, and your own. On that day you were the furthest from God you had ever been. You never believed in Him, but on that day you could feel the whole ocean freeze. You felt your toes go bloodless. That was the day the card arrived, sailing forth over the tender shoots.
And this is what I mean about writing meaningful experiences of women. I’d just love if we would stop reinforcing sweetness and perfection and benevolence as personality types for women in literature and get real. I have never resolved to be icier, but now I think I should.
– Are you … Wow. It’s you.
You don’t even nod at her. Sometimes when you eat too much at lunch you need to be cruel to a salesgirl. You finger a flowing cream dress. She offers to start a fitting room for the zero items you have in your hand.
You open your eyes and send Jennifer a quick text.
I was a mild bitch at Morgan Le Fay.
Montana or Malibu? Customer or salesgirl?
Latters, you write. This is how good you are at your job. You are a clinician of the text. You can eviscerate, palpate, abrogate with a mild word, combined with cunning punctuation. You want Jennifer to have to ask someone what you mean. You want her to feel dumb, undeserving. Like the PR girl that she is. Lest she mistake her thinness for value.
Ghost lover’s job? Providing responses for women to send to the men they are dating. “A way for girls, mainly, to be the coolest versions of themselves, inoculated in practice against their desire.” And maybe a little part of why I was so stuck on this story in particular was because I would love to create this service as a way to coach women on how to craft email replies in the workplace.
Not all of the stories left as much of an impact on me as Ghost Lover did, but all were very enjoyable. Other favourites included Forty-Two, Beautiful People, and A Suburban Weekend.
Here’s the summary from the publisher’s website:
Behind anonymous screens, an army of cool and beautiful girls manage the dating service Ghost Lover, a forwarding system for text messages that promises to spare you the anguish of trying to stay composed while communicating with your crush. At a star-studded political fundraiser in a Los Angeles mansion, a trio of women compete to win the heart of the slick guest of honor. In a tense hospital waiting room, an inseparable pair of hard-partying friends crash into life’s responsibilities, but the magic of their glory days comes alive again at the moment they least expect it.
In these nine riveting stories—which include two Pushcart Prize winners and a finalist for the National Magazine Award—Lisa Taddeo brings to life the fever of obsession, the blindness of love, and the mania of grief. Featuring Taddeo’s arresting prose that continues to thrill her legions of fans, Ghost Lover dares you to look away.
If you’ve read Taddeo’s work, you’ll recognize the same wild and free spirit in the characters here. They don’t always do what WE want, but they are always true to themselves. The deep exploration of many ways that women can choose to live their lives and to respond to their relationships with friends, lovers, others is fascinating and the edge that Taddeo gives to her women is invigorating to the reader. I defy anyone to not see themselves in at least a few of these characters.
Publication of this book isn’t the only thing Taddeo has going on right now. She is also involved in turning Three Women into a TV series and writing the film adaptation for Animal.
Thank you so much to Avid Reader Press and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book in advance of its release date. It is out now so you can pick up a copy at your favourite independent book store!