Title: The Paper Wasp
Author: Lauren Acampora
Book Length: 289 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Thriller
Read Start Date: March 5, 2022
Read Finish Date: March 20, 2022
Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: An electrifying debut novel from the acclaimed author of The Wonder Garden, The Paper Wasp is a riveting knife-edge story of two women’s dark friendship of twisted ambition set against the backdrop of contemporary Hollywood. In small-town Michigan, Abby Graven leads a solitary life. Once a bright student on the cusp of a promising art career, she now languishes in her childhood home, trudging to and from her job as a supermarket cashier. Each day she is taunted from the magazine racks by the success of her former best friend Elise, a rising Hollywood starlet whose life in pictures Abby obsessively scrapbooks. At night Abby escapes through the films of her favorite director, Auguste Perren, a cult figure known for his creative institute the Rhizome. Inspired by Perren, Abby draws fantastical storyboards based on her often premonitory dreams, a visionary gift she keeps hidden.
When Abby encounters Elise again at their high school reunion, she is surprised and warmed that Elise still considers her not only a friend but a brilliant storyteller and true artist. Elise’s unexpected faith in Abby reignites in her a dormant hunger, and when Elise offhandedly tells Abby to look her up if she’s ever in LA, Abby soon arrives on her doorstep. There, Abby discovers that although Elise is flourishing professionally, behind her glossy magazine veneer she is lonely and disillusioned. Ever the supportive friend, Abby becomes enmeshed in Elise’s world, even as she guards her own dark secret and burning desire for greatness. As she edges closer to Elise, the Rhizome, and her own artistic ambitions, the dynamic shifts between the two friends–until Abby can see only one way to grasp the future that awaits her.
The Paper Wasp is a thrilling, unexpected journey into the psyche and imagination of a woman determined to fulfill her destiny from one of our most unique and incisive writers
My Review: I received this book from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review in 2019. I am only getting to this book now, in 2022. I am somewhat addicted to books, so made the mistake of requesting too many books from Netgalley, all of which I did not get to. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I took a break from reviewing and therefore did not read any books from Netgalley. I am trying to rectify that now.
I am sorry that I didn’t read this book earlier, and I think that the Goodreads review of 3.32 as of the writing of this review does not give the book justice. The book is written in the 1st person, but is told as though it is a conversation or a letter to another person. The narrator is looking back at the past from her position in the future.
So for example: “The airplane seat beside me was unoccupied, so I was able to spread the drawings out on my lap. All at once you were there with me, resplendent on the sofa in your starry dress, the fiery wave of hair over your shoulder. Your eyes were the green of a forgotten lake, your sweet mouth quirked and curved.”
This writing style was okay, but not my favorite. Although it was interesting to see a character (e.g. Elise) wholly from the subjective perspective of someone else (Abby), I have never read a book written quite like this before and it took some getting used to. Additionally, it kind of led me astray, because you are only getting to see the inner working of the mind in so far as the narrator (Abby) wants you to — this led to a wholly unexpected twist at the end, which I did not see coming at all.
That being said, as you can tell from the above quote the author gives great descriptions, which I really liked.
SPOILER ALERT: I get into the plot here so don’t read on if you intend to read this book, which I highly recommend.
So at the beginning of the book, Abby seems obsessed with Elise, a childhood friend turned famous actor, even going so far as to keep clippings of Elise from magazines and the like. Abby and Elise haven’t been in contact for a while, but reconnect at the High School reunion, where Elise gives Abby her phone number. Abby, taking it upon herself, just shows up at Elise’s house in California, where after a moment of trepidation, Elise invites her in — and then to stay long term, first as a guest and then as Elise’s personal assistant.
This arrangement struck me as a little weird — but ok, maybe Elise is the whimsical Hollywood type who just does weird things. Would a normal person just invite someone they haven’t seen in a decade to stay long term? Abby seemed lonely in her old life, so she agrees. As the story goes on, we see that Elise is kind of a train wreck, and into herself. Eventually Abby starts to feel used and devalued, so she ups and leaves (after spilling all Elise’s secrets to the press) just when Elise needs her most (Elise is pregnant), Abby ignores Elise and basically runs away to pursue her own art.
There was also a backstory involving a cultish movie director, Perrin. Elise and Abby were obsessed with him as kids — Elise wants to star in one of his movies, and Abby wants Perrin to use her drawings as a basis for one of the movie plots. There is a place called the Rhizome where actors / artists go to hone their talents, get spa treatments, have dream therapy sessions, etc.
The falling out of the two came as a direct result of the Rhizome, wherein Elise wanted to restrict Abby’s access (after paying for several treatments for Abby as a gift), and Abby took this to mean that Elise did not want Abby to advance in her own career and that Elise was just a self centered ass. This led to the one side falling out of the friends (Abby just ghosted Elise and Elise was desperately trying to get in touch with Abby).
All of the above I can believe and seems pretty consistent…but then Abby goes and kidnaps Elise’s baby and moves to Europe to live with Perrin on his compound. Up to this point, Abby was the sympathetic character — all of a sudden she is the villain, having stolen the child because she believed that she could raise the baby better than Elise. I had always had the impression of Abby as the quiet mouse who didn’t think very much of herself–all of a sudden she thinks she can parent better than Elise? Granted Elise is more or less and alcoholic at this stage, but that doesn’t mean she deserved for her baby to be kidnapped, and it doesn’t mean that Abby is all of a sudden stable. I don’t know, I have very mixed emotions about this turn of events.
Anyway, I finished the book a few days ago and am still thinking about it, so that must say something, right?
This book is definitely worth checking out.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.