I was beyond keen on diving into this book, thanks to the premise of using unconventional storytelling and sounding on par with an underrated favorite of mine, Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian, by exploring themes of daughter-mother bonds through journal entries.
It’s also in a similar vein to Motherest wherein essentially nothing happens plot-wise; the story relies heavily on the characters, so if you don’t connect with the main protagonist you’re in for a rather lackluster reading experience.
Smothered is a sold as a hilarious roman à clef told via journal entries, text messages, emails, bills, receipts, tweets, doctor’s prescriptions, job applications and rejections, parking tickets, and pug pictures, chronicling the year that Lou moves back home after college. Told from Lou’s point-of-view, Smothered tells the story of two young(ish) women, just trying to get it right, and learning that just because we all grow up doesn’t mean we necessarily have to grow old. (After all, what is Juvaderm for?)
A list of things I’d like to highlight:
- Lou’s sister is nicknamed “Val” (short for Valentina), and I couldn’t stop picturing Abbi’s alter ego (from Broad City).
- Speaking of over-the-top women: the mother/daughter interactions have a lot to offer in the ways of entertainment. Take for example this exchange below that sums up quite well the dynamic between Mama Shell and Lou:
Her voice brought to mind Kate Siegel’s “Mother, Can You Not?,” especially when I came upon this exchange later on in the book:
This screams of the aforementioned because:
Added bonus: her mother making sure Lou doesn’t relegate in her love life stays consistently funny.
Sigh. Mom has somehow managed to sabotage every single one of my relationships … even the imaginary ones with celebrities. (“Eddie Redmayne? Really? Why not Ryan Gosling or Zac Efron??”)
- Which is a sly way to mention Theodore Greenberg: To get on Mama Shell’s level, dating a guy that uses “awesome sauce” unironically is a sign to… But on a real note, I do not understand Theo as a character since he barely gets fleshed out beyond his niche of cooking food and taking care for Lou… Like, what are his motivations for staying with Lou? He gets dropped on us as a fact since he’s introduced as her boyfriend™, but we never get to see why they chose each other, or even the bare minimum of talking to one another about something besides take-out food or Lou’s jobless state. This is exactly why having a main character in a relationship from the get-go is seldom a good thing in my book, because they have this whole history together that we, as the reader, are unaware of (and that we weirdly didn’t experience in here), and it consequently created this distance between us and them. Like, how can I root for you to stay together when it’s hard to gauge why you’re in it in the first place?
- Aside: Smothered featuring texts, Instagram posts, emails, receipts, and more made for quite the upbeat and swift read.
I feel like the positives come to a bit of a halt at this point because all else gets eclipsed by Lou’s whining, privileged state. I mean, I couldn’t comprehend how she keeps complaining about not having a job upon graduating from Columbia and experiencing jealousy when her peers find their passion… and yet she does absolutely nothing to move forward in life. Lou literally applies to only one place over the entirety of this book… She just sits in bed, waiting for her mom to order her around (and then complains when she does).
Later, Theo himself has to put her entitlement in perspective:
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic?”
“In what way am I being dramatic?” I asked, dramatically.
Theo shook his head. “You’re living rent-free. You got rejected from one job. This is hardly the end of the world.
THANK YOU! She doesn’t even acknowledge how good she’s got it going for herself.
I mean, the author tried toning it down at one point by introducing an even shallower character so that the main character doesn’t seem as bad — smart move on her part — but it didn’t play out in the end on account of her constant exaggerations, such as:
I miss college, where being social required no more than stepping outside my dorm room and walking half a block. Now, all my friends are either on the East Coast or going to graduate school, leaving me a completely isolated introvert in La-La Land.* This is pretty much the equivalent of dropping a blind person in the Sahara and asking him to find water.
I’m pretty sure Lou has never experienced thirst in her rich life, so don’t.
And then she goes on, while on a juice cleanse, to write: “Hunger Level: Africa.”
Please, reevaluate your choices in saying this.
And before that, it was the Geneva Conventions with that same juice cleanse, “My whole body shuddered. No food for seven days? Surely this was banned by the Geneva Conventions.” I personally don’t care for exaggerations in books, so this hit the wrong note for me.
There’s also the case of her mother outright lying by registering her pugs as service dogs just to bring them along on vacation, when they’re the furthest thing from stable. Drew Lynch made a whole video about this phenomenon of faking service dogs, and how this behavior, perpetrated by individuals like Lou’s mom, affects people with trained service dogs in receiving fair treatment at different establishments.
“Service dogs?” I shouted from the backseat as Baguette blew snot in my face.
“I registered them on the Internet!” Mom insisted, turning around from the front to face me. “What more do you want?”
“Mom, I know newborn babies who are better behaved than these pugs.”
“Oh, it’s fine!” Mom dismissed, waving her hand at me. “If anyone has a problem, I can show them my papers.”
And while I’m on the topic, I also couldn’t agree with Lou’s habit of compulsively lying to her loved ones over the course of this book, when telling the truth is so much easier than whatever hole she’s digging by making up these lies. And it’s tragic because whenever she’s caught spinning in her web of lies she still opts to make up another lie… The angst surrounding this whole book could’ve been avoided had she just told the damn TRUTH. Her anthem song could only be Why You Always Lying.
So I was beyond thankful when her father finally calls her out on her attitude.
“Well, are you an adult?”
I paused, taken aback. Was this a trick question?
“That’s what it says on my ID.”
“No, it says you’re twenty-two on your ID. Does that really make you an adult?”
It brings home the quote I read in HONY: “Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you’re grown up. Growing up means being patient, holding your temper, cutting out the self-pity, and quitting with the righteous indignation.”
But when putting those hindrances aside, this is the first novel to compel me for the first time in weeks with its nontraditional mother-daughter relationship. And having Lou achieve some major character growth by the end of the book was satisfying to experience. So, overall, I’d say that if you know what you’re getting into before reading, Smothered makes for one hell of a book.
ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Expected publication: May 1st, 2018