Book Review | May Just the Right Book! | Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

Just the Right Book! is different than the other book subscriptions I’m reviewing this year in that a real life person actually picks a book out just for me – as opposed to picking out one book to go to all subscribers.

There are numerous subscriptions to choose from. I choose a 12-month softcover subscription, which cost me $240 and I filled out a fairly long and involved profile to indicate what genres, authors, etc. I’m interested in. You can read my past Just the Book! reviews to see how this subscription has worked out for me overall.

Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta book coverIn April they choose Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta and hot damn did they get this one right! I just said the other day that I’d read a book that was in my top five for the year so I don’t want to say that again so soon, but, um — use your context clues to figure out what I’m not-saying here, okay?

If unique is what you’re looking for in a story then you got it here. Not only is the plot itself pretty weird / unique (and we’ll come back to that) but the format in which the story is told is unique. There are some essays, some chapters from first person POV, some chapters are entirely made up of comments from internet trolls, and then there’s this weird fan fiction of Orson Welles? Sort of? This kind of hodge podge of storytelling styles can get really tiresome to me when it feels gimmicky, as though the author was trying to be edgy. That is not the case here – or it wasn’t for me. The story is richer, better, and more colorful for these strange storytelling methods. This book never quite let me figure it out.

The story is that of two women who grew up together in Los Angeles in the ’80s: Meadow and Carrie. Both of them became filmmakers, but they each took very different routes. Then there’s Jelly, a “phone phreak” that has these weird relationships with men via the phone. They’re like “romantic”ish relationships except she stops calling them if they are ever sexual with her. There’s some serious catfishing going on there and the whole thing is strange and funny and sad – and there are some interesting power dynamics to consider.

And then there was the language, which was beautiful, and the things that made me think and feel. All the things, y’all.

When she watched Barry Lyndon at seventeen it was terrible. But at nineteen it was beautiful. This is the thing about films. They don’t change. You change. The immutability of the film (or a book or a painting or a piece of music) is something to measure yourself against. That is one of the the things a great work of art does. It stays there waiting for you to come back to it, and it shows you who are your now, each time a little different.” 

This is a book that made me immediately order everything the author has written. I can’t wait to see what else this incredibly talented woman has created for us.

Rating: 10/10

Recommended for: People who like unusual formats for books; film fans; fans of female friendship; fans of books with complicated relationships; fans of books that are super-duper well written; fans of making me really happy by reading a book I love and then loving it too.

Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace test? Yes

Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: N / N / Y / Y

NOTE: I wrote the following note for last month’s book and it’s still true.

Note: So far, 100% of the books I’ve received from this subscription have been written by women and 0% of them have been written by authors of color.

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