Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: "Paulina & Fran" by Rachel B. Glaser

Many of us probably knew someone like Paulina, one of the title characters in Rachel B. Glaser's debut novel, Paulina & Fran. Always larger than life, always wanting to be the center of attention, women and men are drawn to her, and they often feel illuminated by her attention—until she tires of them and discards them, leaving them resentful. She seduces men and women to feel desirable and in control, and doesn't handle rejection well. And she isn't interested in other people's lives or problems at all, despite her reassurances to the contrary.

An art school student with little to no discernible artistic talent, Paulina is coasting academically. On a school trip to Norway, abandoned by the most recent object of her infatuation, she meets Fran, who is equally beautiful although she lacks Paulina's confidence, possesses artistic talent she can't seem to harness, and is sweet and trusting. The two quickly form an intense bond.

"She felt Gretchen was the kind of girlfriend she would be offered again and again by the adult world, the real world, but Paulina was someone truly original, someone who existed only once."

Paulina and Fran's friendship blossoms fully, leaving their other friends by the wayside. And then Fran decides to begin dating one of Paulina's ex-boyfriends, someone Paulina grew tired of and rejected. But as happens so often in life, once Fran finds him appealing, Paulina isn't so sure she doesn't want him anymore. However, she instead decides to do everything in her power to destroy their relationship, even if it means severing her friendship with Fran at the same time. And in one fell swoop, one action and its aftermath change everything, including their paths post-graduation.

This book was really intriguing, although both main characters aren't particularly likable. In Paulina, Glaser creates such an egotistical yet flawed dynamo, one who always draws your attention when she's on the page, yet after a while her fury and appeal peters out. (Luckily she regains both for a short while.) While people like Paulina do exist, at times I just found her ability to coast from opportunity to opportunity a little unbelievable. But Glaser's dialogue is funny, ribald, and occasionally moving, and her use of language and imagery is particularly vivid. She truly captures the mixture of innocence and cynicism that comes toward the end of college, and the weariness of recent graduates as they try to find their way.

I've seen this referred to as a "woman's novel." While it is about women, and perhaps women are more likely to have the type of intense friendships that occurred in the book, Paulina & Fran was definitely intriguing and entertaining for me. I think we could all use a little of Paulina's energy in our lives, perhaps without some of her intensity.

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