The uneasy relationship between two differently self-absorbed women leads to betrayal and tragedy.
Opening in 1995 at the memorial service for suicide David Bronstein, Cline’s second novel (What to Keep, 2004) loops backward to reveal what preceded this moment—for David, his ex-girlfriend, Annabeth Jensen, and her ex-friend/employer, film director Laura Katz. Annabeth, a young film editor and the product of a dysfunctional Minnesotan family (her drunken father disappeared and her mother never accepted it), is perpetually anxious. Her live-in relationship with David seemed initially fulfilling but has become disappointing, which is something of a pattern in her life; it was the same with her feelings about Los Angeles, even with a trip to the Oscars. When Annabeth bumps into charismatic Laura at a party, she feels excited—they share an obsession with film which makes their soon burgeoning friendship seem like dating. But Laura is inconsistent, first soliciting Annabeth’s opinion on the script she’s planning to shoot—Trouble Doll, about Bunny, a Midwestern girl in L.A.—then not following up. Laura does hire Annabeth as her editor when the shoot begins, but the relationship starts to fray, and Laura fires Annabeth before the film is complete. From the depths of her depression, Annabeth fails to notice David’s increasing fragility and on seeing the finished Trouble Doll she realizes Laura has stolen scenes from her own childhood and attributed them to loser Bunny, who “doesn’t make any real decisions about her life until it’s too late.” Annabeth’s subsequent withdrawal from David brings the story—and the parallel narrative—full circle.
Variously shadowy, exasperating and snappish characters populate a delicate, muted, not quite complete tale.