I read a blurb about Kate Walbert's His Favorites on a "Best of 2018" list somewhere, so I picked up an e-book version from the library.
The blurbs were right — this is a bewitching story that weaves two huge events together. The beauty of this book is not in a climactic punch, but rather in its intense prose and weaving together if the narrative. Jo is a young, carefree girl until the death of her best friend which will haunt her for years to come. She can’t go back to school — it’s too much to bear. She is lucky to be accepted to Hawthorne, a boarding school, so late after the start of the year. Her isolation, however, makes her a target of Master, the notorious teacher who gloms onto the beautiful young things he grooms through his modernist seminar. These two seemingly disparate events shape Jo into adulthood.
This book was such a whirlwind that taking a step back to think on my thoughts about it knocks the wind out of me. It’s such a beautiful book that I felt like a lobster in a cool pot of water; it wasn’t until the book ended that I realized the water was boiling and I wouldn’t make it out alive. Jo was at times sympathetic and at others quite not so, as it’s hard to tell her that she shouldn’t blame herself for her best friend’s death. However, the most beautiful part of Jo is when she explains her confusion with the public reaction to Stephanie, her best friend, after she dies. Suddenly, in the newspaper articles and funerals notices, it’s a new girl. While everything these reports say is true, they capture an angel and not the true person Stephanie was on a Tuesday evening. This description was apt and quite affecting, as it’s something I’ve ruminated on for sometime, how we take people in death and make them into someone they weren’t in life. Or at a minimum a better version. Walbert wrote it better than I could.
This book was just glorious, and it was quite a meditation on who we become when we live our lives. Every little event affects us, and shapes our souls. Walbert’s prose brings this through the paper and to the surface of our consciousness. And what a beautiful ride it is.