Category: New Adult
Author: Jessica Raya
Format: E-book via NetGalley, 376 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Pub Date: June 6, 2017
Summary from Publisher:
In the tradition of Miriam Toews’s A Complicated Kindness, Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, and Marjorie Celona’s Y, and set against the shadow of the Vietnam War and the changing social mores of 1970s America, a sharply comic novel that follows the tumultuous coming of age of both a mother and daughter, at a time when womanhood itself was coming of age.
We’re all just one bad decision away from disaster. For as long as 14-year-old Robin Fisher can remember, she has lived by her insurance salesman father’s credo, happy to live the American Dream and catalogue everyday calamities under “Bad Things that Happen to Other People.” But life in 1970s Golden, California, doesn’t prove so golden after her father deserts the family, setting in motion a series of events that results in Robin accidentally setting fire to an abandoned party house. Seemingly overnight, she discovers that earthquakes or the possibility of electrocution are nothing compared to the hazards of high school or coming home to a family that is suddenly one member short. As Robin struggles to keep an eye on her fixation with Bic lighters and her newly independent mother’s own growing pains, she is drawn into the orbit of Carol “Jesus Freak” Closter, a vulnerable yet charismatic classmate whose friendship will challenge Robin in ways she could never have imagined. When Carol finally crosses a dangerous line, it’s Robin who must make a heartbreaking decision of her own.
Hilarious, insightful, and deeply moving, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit illuminates those unforgettable moments in life when everything changes, whether we want it to or not.
- From NetGalley
While the main character, Robin Fisher, in the novel, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit, is only a preteen-aged girl, the tone of the novel and its thematic issues which are covered in the book, are both mature and serious.
While she is surprisingly detached to an almost unbearable indifference, both in her tone, and in her unexpected choices and responses to those around her as she tries to navigate an understanding of what she’s been forced to experience, the memories and sentimentalities that she holds on to are ever present in the narrative of the book.
But, the book is not entirely about her though it’s written in her voice. It is as much about her mother, Elaine Fisher, as it is about the other women and girls that course through the novel with their own personal stories and experiences.
From Carol Closter, the friend she resists and then reluctantly inherits, an adamant and devoted Bible-believing Christian who is ostracized and bullied at their Ronald Reagan High School.
To Melanie D’Angelo, a childhood friend she trusts to be her ally until she realizes their priorities are no longer in sync.
To the women that foster the changes in her mother’s turbulent bouts of drama, depression, and manic lifestyle changes including Vera Miller, a professional country club wife whose marriages expire almost as quickly as they begin; to The Girls, Lorna and Suzanne, whose secretarial gifts are a key introduction to the working and single life that Elaine Fisher must be inducted; which eventually evolve into new friendships found in The Sisters, Willow, Aurora, and Celeste, feminist activists who empower one another during the political changes happening in the United States when many boys and men were called to enlist into the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam.
While the girls and women in the novel are left to renegotiate their lives according to the trauma they face, be it either: abandonment, hypocrisy, jealousy, or rape, they are not entirely alone in their suffering.
The boys and men have their share, too.
From the suffocating show of appearances for Jim Fisher who lived out most of his days in a separate pool house; to Mr. Galpin’s grieving loss of wife and child; to the misjudgement of Moody Miller; and the insecurities of Jamie Finley, whose intelligence and kindness devolves into antipathy towards the injustice of death and violence found in war.
The characters are well diversified and represented clearly to the reader through the author’s descriptions and dialogue even though the tone of the book reveals a stagnant and static feeling of hopelessness found in the small town of Golden in which they reside.
For Robin Fisher and her mother, the drudgery of life seems as dry and stifling as the coarseness of their desert town.
But, even though the plot carries with it the unexpected tragedies and trauma of its characters, often times unjustly so, the perpetual hope and conviction of Carol Closter in the faith of her God against the injustices of the world make her both an uncanny, quirky victim—and hero.
Elaine Fisher, too, in all her failings as a wife and a mother, seems to, in her ability to smoke cigarettes incessantly and recreate herself depending on the whim of her desires, speaks to a sort of bravery and survival against a time when women were not afforded independence or rewarded respect for their independent efforts. She is as colourful as her interior design antics, to her short-lived, but passionate attachments to the different men in her life.
The narrative is not heavy, though its melancholy can be found in the grave indifference the main character subjugates herself to as both a context for coping and stubborn rebellion, not to mention a growing psychosis and fascination with lighters and fire.
Yet, the book, is unapologetic for its characters’ wariness, but rather a testament to the hurt and tragedy that can sometimes afflict even the most prepared. The book reads as a resounding, “It is what it is,” mantra that neither pities itself, nor exaggerates its hardships—but admits its torment and suffering through the emotional and physical scars in which the characters must bear.
Somewhere in all of that, is tenderness—and an acceptance of second chances, no matter how small of a sliver a second chance may be.
It’s a touching, hard book—one to be read with a shocking, yet empathetic eye.
Characters: 5 stars
Plot: 5 stars
Language/Narrative: 4.5 stars
Dialogue: 5 stars
Pacing: 5 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars
A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit by Jessica Raya through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.
About the Author:
My first novel, Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club, was published in four languages under a pseudonym and selected as a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Book of 2007. My second novel, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit, will be published in June 2017 by McClelland & Stewart, Penguin Random House Canada. My essays and short stories have appeared in magazines and literary journals, as well as the 2010 essay collection What My Father Gave Me: Daughters Speak.
- From Goodreads