Marlena by Julie Buntin

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Published by Henry Holt and Co. (April 4, 2017)
288 pages (Kindle edition)
Advance reading copy provided by the publisher
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While I do believe that Marlena might be most appreciated by those who understand what it's like to have endured childhood either un-parented or underparented, there's no doubt that author Buntin, in her exquisite debut novel, has captured the life of rural teenagers. 

Probably most teenagers think where they live is boring. But there aren’t words for the catastrophic dreariness of being fifteen in northern Michigan at the tail end of winter, when you haven’t seen the sun in weeks and the snow won’t stop coming and there’s nowhere to go and you’re always cold and everyone you know is broke and the Gaslight Cinema only gets two shitty blockbusters every few weeks and not a single place is open twenty-four hours except a gas station.

Having experienced a combination of all of these elements, I found myself uniquely captivated by the relationship of Cat and Marlena, as well as their relationships with their youthful cohorts and several irresponsible adults, and Buntin's prose is delightful. 

The spring’s burst gloriously, stupidly into summer, and we’re wearing drugstore flip-flops, hair tacky with salt at the temples, breath all cigarettes and cherry lip gloss and yesterday’s wine. I kick my sandals off and unfold my legs on the dash, press my toes against the windshield the way I do when it’s just Marlena and me. Ryder says I’ve ruined his car, that the spots won’t rub off, but I don’t care.

One of the elements I love the most is that of Cat sharing her experiences, and this story, later in life; she has been able to gain some distance from her relationship with Marlena, her adolescence, and reframe it in a way that has helped her move forward...but there are certainly parts of the story that continue to hold her back. 

The tattoo I myself got - yes, a word, just as hers would have been - when I was thirty, to celebrate a year of sobriety that didn’t last much longer than that. Yes, because I needed a physical reminder to say yes to the person I want to be, not the person I mostly am. Now my ankle says yes for no reason.

In the end, it's the decisions that are made, and connections formed, during this time of our lives that often shape what is to come in the future. Even though Cat acknowledges this, she is also forced to acknowledge the pain she has lived with every day, thanks to the power of her connection with Marlena. 

A beautifully-written drama, I thoroughly enjoyed this debut from my list of Top Ten 2017 Debut Novels; if this sounds like a story you can relate to, I definitely recommend that you give it a try. 

 

 

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