Not to be Overlooked
By Lara Abbey and Natalia Alvarez
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This review covers Wet Paint by Chloё Ashby and Mother In The Dark by Kayla Maiuri.
Wet Paint by Chloё Ashby
Review by Lara Abbey
Chloё Ashby’s incisive debut Wet Paint follows a few months in the life of Eve, an Oxford art history dropout saddled with various traumas - her mum abandoning her at a young age, her dad’s alcoholism and her best friend’s suicide - the culmination of which results in her unravelling during the course of the book.
One of Wet Paint’s major strengths is how well it depicts the discomfort of living in a traumatised mind, with Ashby’s all-too-vivid description of Eve clearing out the fridge and doing the washing-up in the very first chapter acquainting us with a queasiness that lurks on every page of the novel. The first-person narration invites us inside Eve’s ever-wandering thought process. She invents a backstory for everyone - the couple at her favourite art gallery, the students at the life-drawing class she models for and one of the novel’s main motifs, the barmaid in Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. More often than not, these tangents relate to events in Eve’s own life, prompting musings on her past and flashbacks of moments shared with Grace, the aforementioned best friend. The fact that throughout the novel many characters comment on Eve’s spaciness only serves to make her dissociative tendencies more uncomfortably realistic.
Another aspect of the novel I found to be very interesting was how it weaved issues surrounding labour into its narrative. We see the intersection of gender and class through how Eve’s treated whilst working in her “unskilled” jobs: groped at the restaurant she works at at the beginning of the novel, receiving constant passes from patrons at the bar and made the subject of confusing advances from the instructor at her life-drawing gig. Due to her class position, Eve’s boundaries are considered “fair game” to violate, hindering her ability to heal from her trauma and paralleling the circumstances surrounding Grace’s death, something which is pieced together throughout the book. This focus on the impact of “crappy” jobs isn’t something that’s given much room in other pieces of media, and it adds an extra layer of complexity and depth to the novel.
Wet Paint is a short but powerful novel about the effects of trauma and how it empties people out, rendering them mere objects of consumption. Although it is overwritten in some places, and the resolution doesn’t entirely tie up all loose ends, Wet Paint is still a gripping and heart-wrenching read that’s certainly a worthwhile addition to the “troubled woman” subgenre currently sweeping contemporary fiction.
Mother In The Dark by Kayla Maiuri
Review by Natalia Alvarez
In Kayla Maiuri’s debut novel, Mother In The Dark - published by Riverhead Books in August 2022 - readers are introduced to a family brimming with secrets. This is a book that constantly keeps readers on their toes and uses flashbacks to the narrator's childhood as well as present-day information to give context to all the issues surrounding this family, the majority of which involve the relationship between the mother and her daughters as it declines over the years. This is a novel that demands your undivided attention and grabs hold of you from the very beginning.
Our narrator is the eldest sister Anna, who has moved out of her family house in Massachusetts and is now living with a family friend, Vera, in New York City. Things seem to be going well in the beginning, until Vera’s blossoming relationship with her boyfriend leads Anna to fear the two could be close to moving in together, leaving Anna without a place to stay. This influences her decision to ignore the abundance of phone calls she has been receiving from her father Vin and younger sisters Lia and Sofia. Anna is almost positive that these calls have to do with her mother Dee who has not been well in recent years, and she fears what her family will tell her as well as how she will react to this information.
With the basics of the novel established, we move into flashbacks where we learn how the three daughters grew up, first in a predominantly Italian suburb in Boston where they lived a relatively happy life. This changes when their father abruptly moves the family without consulting Dee to the home they now live in, in Massachusetts. Here Dee becomes withdrawn slowly over time until seeming to shut down completely. On the other hand, their father Vin takes to drinking excessively, making for a very obvious shift in the girls’ way of living. The three daughters have different reactions to these changes in their lives, which the author does a wonderful job of showcasing.
This novel examines crumbling family dynamics, the toll of unchecked mental illness, unhealthy coping mechanisms and the most painful aspects of mother/daughter/sister relationships. It is a heavy novel to be sure, but I think that it is well worth the effort. Maiuri’s debut is a novel I feel is a must-read and I cannot wait to see what she comes out with next!