Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Book Review: "Reputation" by Sara Shepard

Did you ever see the recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live where they spoofed soap operas and telenovelas? They make every single incident overly melodramatic, with pauses, emotional outbursts, and campy looks.

As it roared toward its conclusion, I felt like Reputation was very similar to that sketch. Every single character had one, if not multiple secrets, and as each one was revealed I felt like dramatic music should be turned up as the other characters reacted.

Aldrich University is a small school in Pittsburgh on par with the better-known Ivy League schools. One day hackers break into the university's email system and expose countless faculty, students, staff, even those who work in the university hospital, by dumping their emails into a searchable database. The same thing happened with Harvard, Yale, and other schools, but that's no consolation to those affected by the email dump.

Among those exposed was Dr. Greg Strasser, a handsome, successful surgeon who is married to Kit Manning-Strasser, the daughter of the university president and a development officer at the school. Apparently Greg's emails contained multiple communications with someone called "Lolita," and they get pretty sexually explicit. Even though Kit and Greg's marriage was on shaky ground, the public discovery of her husband's betrayal embarrasses and upsets her, and is one of the things which throws her off balance at the school's fundraising gala. Yet when she awakens at home from a strange stupor after the gala, she finds Greg suffering from a serious stab wound, and he dies from his injuries shortly thereafter.

Who killed Greg? Was it Kit, in the midst of a jealous, drunken rage that she doesn't remember? Or was it one of the myriad others in town who had issues with him? Kit's sister Willa, an investigative journalist, returns home to help Kit, but also can't resist doing some digging into the hack as well as Greg's murder. But it turns out Willa has her own secrets, too, including why she fled town so long ago and rarely returns.

Reputation is a soapy, campy look at the secrets and lies of a small town and those who inhabit it. It's a story of infidelity, betrayal, jealousy, attempted blackmail, questions about paternity, sexual assault, and so much more. No one is safe from prying eyes, and no one is wholly innocent, so you really don't know whom you should suspect.

Sara Shepard, who created the Pretty Little Liars series, is no stranger to gossip and scandal, and she demonstrates her skills with great aplomb here. I was hooked on the book from the start, but somewhere around the middle I felt like there were just so many crazy secrets and scandals that it got a bit ridiculous, and I really didn't care about the characters. Talk about a bunch of seriously screwed-up people!

"Maybe the best reputation is no reputation. Maybe it's best not to care whatsoever how people see you. Maybe the only thing that really matters is how you see yourself."

If you're a fan of soap opera or melodrama, you'll definitely find something to sink your teeth into with Reputation.

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