A debut novel about a disaffected slacker who hides her troubles behind a witty facade.
Jane has a boring job as a research telemarketer, calling people from a list every day and asking them about their pets. To keep things interesting, she changes her name for each caller and deviates from the script. She does that in real life, too: when her conspiracy theorist roommate, Keats, and his girlfriend, Ivy, ask her questions about her life, she makes things up on the spot that she thinks will satisfy them. The face that she presents to the world is that of a woman winning her struggles—but, in reality, she’s not. She’s outwardly charming but broken inside. One of the lies that she tells is that she got the scars on her knees from playing hockey as a kid, but the truth is that she cut them in her yard, kneeling in powdered glass; because she couldn’t count on her abusive parents, she went to a neighbor’s house when she realized that she was injured. Jane is also using drugs again, which she’s trying to hide from her probation counselor, and she’s even been cutting herself. Austin infuses the character of Jane with an easy charm; many of her answers to Keats and Ivy’s questions are clever and sardonic, as when she tells Ivy that her parents are dead: “They both died of a pretty rare disease. It was eventually named after them, actually. Jerry and Sheryl Syndrome. Maybe you’ve heard of it?” But the author effectively undercuts this image by also depicting Jane’s self-destructive actions, from hanging out with a co-worker she calls “heroin-face” to repeatedly calling the same person during her telemarketing job, even though that person has been threatening to kill her. She’s self-harmful but also resourceful and capable; as a result, readers will find it uncomfortable to root for her, but they’ll also find it hard not to. As the story twists and turns in unexpected ways, it moves from amusing to terrifying—a transition that Austin also handles expertly.
A well-crafted and engaging novel, even when the protagonist’s actions are hard to take.