A girl from a background of poverty and abuse becomes best friends at college with a wealthy classmate, from whom she hides everything about her life.
Pietrzyk’s (The Angel on My Chest, 2015, etc.) fourth work of fiction is set in the early 1980s in Chicago, a city then terrorized by the Tylenol Killer, who put cyanide in random capsules and returned them to drugstore shelves, killing seven people. We meet the unnamed narrator moving into her dorm freshman year: just looking at her roommate’s stuff fills her with bitterness. She has few possessions, no money, and no supportive family, having come alone on an overnight bus from Iowa with a cardboard suitcase. Then a girl comes in to borrow masking tape: Jess. “Where’d you come from, anyways?” she asks. The narrator replies that she’s the devil’s daughter and she comes from hell. It’s a joke, but it’s as much of the truth as she’ll ever tell (though the reader will hear it all). Jess is instantly enchanted. “I love you already,” she says, and the narrator marvels at how she said it “easily and simply, like tossing a beanbag to a child.” Creating an alternate self who is not penniless and damaged, she makes herself indispensable to Jess and soon is being invited to dinners and shopping with her parents, to their home. But the size of the hole inside this girl is incalculable; she needs much more than she is given, and sometimes Jess is stingy. When Jess’ sister dies in a car accident, when the Tylenol Killer strikes someone connected to their lives, the narrator becomes ever more entangled in Jess’ family. They rely on her. They think she is a simple, well-mannered girl, quiet and helpful. But the reader has seen into her past, knows her uncle, her little sister, her father, and all that happened back in Iowa. She is anything but.
A dark, intense novel on a hot subject: female friendship complicated by class and privilege. Very good.