A young woman leaves the rural Midwest to become an international model and struggles to heal a deep emotional wound.
In this debut novel, Lucy Pilgrim is born and raised in a sleepy town in Iowa and longs to escape her parochial environs to see the world. She attends the University of Iowa and takes classes in women’s and gender studies but seizes an opportunity to work as a fashion model in New York City, an experience that proves humiliating. Bill Zabub, the head of a prominent agency, demands that she lose 20 pounds on an achingly prohibitive diet. Lucy finishes college and weds Vic, “the man she had decided it logical to marry”—though it’s never made clear by Maili what precisely this means. Lucy travels to Japan to try her luck at modeling yet again and strikes up a torrid relationship with Julien, an affair she confesses to Vic, much to his horror. She eventually moves back to the United States and attempts to repair her fractured marriage, but her relationship with Vic ends in an acrimonious divorce. When Lucy finds work in Barcelona as a model, she stops in Paris to see Julien, hoping to rekindle their romance, but is disappointed to learn he doesn’t equally reciprocate her affections. Maili effectively captures the vulnerability of women to male predation—Lucy seems to constantly fend off the advances of boorishly presumptuous men and is still haunted by the traumatic memory of her grandfather’s sexual assault. But the entire soap-operatic tale seems to ponderously grasp for some lesson to impart, though which one is never obvious. In addition, the prose is by turns didactic and wooden: “Are you suggesting that I don’t do what I really want to do in case my husband might have an affair while I do?” Like the novel’s protagonist, the author traveled the world as a model, and her knowledge of the industry is irreproachable. But Maili’s story would have been more powerful if she had just painstakingly described that peculiar cosmos rather than so laboriously mining it for articulable wisdom.
An intriguing tale of sexual revelation too keen on delivering teachable moments.