Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book 31: To Die For


"Around sixth or seventh grade we got the video camera- one of the first they came out with- and that's when Suzanne got into news. She'd have me tape her so she could watch her performances and work on certain problem areas, like licking her lips and saying um. It's a very competitive field, video journalism. And she figured it's never too early to start. She knew what she wanted by then, so why wait around to start developing her skills, is what she said. We were all so proud of her."

Dates read: March 14-16, 2016

Rating: 8/10

I don't care for the Kardashians. I refuse to purchase magazines that feature them as cover models. I don't watch any of their shows. I don't buy their apps. I find them to be vapid, shallow, and insipid; with no talent and nothing to offer. I am apparently in the minority in holding that opinion. Which is fine, other people apparently enjoy them and they're richer than I can even dream of ever being. But even I have to hand it to them in one respect...they are incredibly skilled at creating and maintaining one thing that many people want but few have: fame.

Suzanne Maretto, the main character of Joyce Maynard's To Die For, desperately wants to be famous. She wants nothing more in life than to be a national news anchor, and she pursues that goal with relentless determination. Not even just like Jim Harbaugh levels of determination. Attacking each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind isn't enough. She will do whatever it takes. If that means taking out her good-natured husband because he has the gall to want to start a family, well, that's what it means. She begins an affair with an underprivileged, not especially bright high school student and convinces him and his friends to carry out the hit.

The story is told in a multiple-narrator format. We don't know at the beginning that this is the story of a murder, just that something big must have happened. Chapters are told from the viewpoints of Suzanne's parents, her teenage lover, his friends, her husband's parents and friends, and even Suzanne herself (among others). Slowly, the story emerges: the affair, the murder, the arrests, the aftermath. It's well-written, with several very different perspectives that each maintain their own voice (her parents both think she's the bee's knees, but the tone of each parent varies from the other) and so engaging that you keep thinking "just one more chapter" (they're all short) and before you know it you've gobbled through half the book.

I remember seeing the movie treatment of this book several years ago, and enjoying both the sharp satire and the strong performances (Nicole Kidman as Suzanne and Joaquin Phoenix as her young boyfriend were both particularly good). Both the book and the movie depict that rare beast: the sociopathic female. It seems that career ambition is the new social climbing for ladies with anti-social personality disorder. While Scarlett O'Hara and Becky Sharp schemed to land themselves wealthy husbands, Suzanne Maretto and her obvious counterpart, Tracy Flick, maneuver to achieve professional goals. This makes me a little uncomfortable, honestly. I don't think you need to look further than the discourse that has surrounded Hillary Clinton during her time in public office to see that a woman who is too obviously interested in power is treated as some sort of freakish anomaly. I'm in my second traditionally male profession (the law, now lobbying) and the double standards at work are very real and very persistent.

Tell me, blog friends...would you want to be famous?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read


  1. Rich, yes. Famous, DEFINITELY NOT.

    I remember seeing this movie too. I think the book might just be worth reading ;-)

    1. I'm with you...fame, especially in this day and age, just seems so unappealing. The movie is so underrated, and the book is too!