I think this is one of those few reads I don’t need too much time to meditate on what I thought about it in the end, and this will end up being a short-ish review because honestly: I’m tired of this. This book represents one of the reasons why I tend to detest new adult – not so much in totality, because there are awesome writers in the genre writing about awesome things, but for what some choose to promote with it – it’s utter B.S. to tell you the truth. And it’s little wonder why people get so angry, horrified, or disgusted with it. I get on one level that this age group/genre wants to target people’s emotions – make them feel rage over “ragey” events or horrified over horrific events – but this isn’t the way to do it. Not at all. If you’re choosing to write about people’s lives – however messed up they may be – you have to take responsibility for conveying the reality and what it entails. If you take the reality of this book – and its overarching statement and manipulations for drama – it’s really horrible. And I’m not a reader who’s buying into the melodrama or the manipulations for what it’s choosing to show. I detest it, to tell you the truth. I really do.
What led me to this book was just the sheer number of people who praised this book for what it offered. And for me, you know – I decided to try it in good mind. Claire Wallis isn’t a bad writer at all – matter in point, I think some of the writing – in technical turns here – was okay. Granted, to a certain point, I would’ve said that despite the fact I didn’t like the characters, what they represented or the way certain situations were conveyed, I followed it because I was able to see what the characters were thinking and feeling in a given point in time. The character intimacy was there. It was largely inconsistent with voice and tone in spurts, but in certain points, it did manage to work for me. Unfortunately it didn’t stay that way through the entire novel. More on that in a little bit.
Part of the problem I had with “Push” to start with was that it was overloading so much in the vein of drama for what the characters lent. It was like these two characters were *too* messed up to be believable. I see this in a lot of NA novels, there’s really no sense of palpable balance to make them realistic. I think good stories come out of a balance: you don’t make them too “good” or too “bad” – you have a balance of conflict and sympathy/empathy. With NA, many times, it’s stuck in the same rut for descriptors and “types” of people it shows. All of the characters have tragic pasts, all of them participate in sexual shaming, all of them have tattoos, etc., do whatever follies or fallings out in the scheme of college aged adults are perceived to do whether in college or just coming out of it. And I’m not saying that these things don’t happen or don’t characterize *some* in this age group to some extent, but do NA writers have to take from the same template EVERY. SINGLE. TIME? For EVERY narrative? It doesn’t do anything for the scope of branching out the genre, and it really does sour the experience for people expecting something unique, different, or even something they can relate to.
But believe it or not, this wasn’t my primary problem with this novel. Nope, I put aside my expectations and said “You know what, despite how familiar this feels to me, and how frustrated I feel about this sameness, I’m going to stick with it to see where it goes.”
To say a bit about the main story: we have two very “messed up” protagonists at the reins in this novel. We start at a point where the heroine’s on a bridge at the mercy of a hero who’s wondering why he’s doing the things he’s doing, and then it branches off into the story from there.
Emma’s a 20-something young woman with a very troubled past. I listened to her story without judgment, but it hurt to read about, and I think that was the intention. From her father’s premature death to her mother marrying an abusive and manipulative jerk (Michael), to her brothers’ neglect and their direct/indirect participation in her learning how to give blowjobs at 12 years old and being raped at 13 at a frat party in which her brothers told her to expect to “put out”. Then being humiliated in front of various boyfriends by Michael, her mother’s constant turmoil at being powerless up until her untimely death. I had to read Emma’s account in small doses because it felt like emotional overload – and it really wasn’t portrayed with the kind of care or sensitivity I think was needed to show them. Emma’s voice is frank and honest, but at the same time – I don’t think the perspective point was mature enough for portrayal to handle those heavy themes. The narrative trades between different timepoints in her life, and the present day.
In the present day: Emma meets David – a guy with a troubled past of his own, but more shrouded in mystery. Both of them are blunt talkers and no-holds-barred in their relations, so they click. Their intimacy is palpable. Yet, David’s not a guy with a clean cut past, and there are narratives here – presented in the vein of other female accounts, that suggest he’s far more sinister in his intentions and previous relations than Emma even knows.
I knew what the vignette perspective points meant ahead of time. I guessed what David was from that measure. And I’d hoped the payoff would come in terms of Emma finding out who he really was and Emma being able to stand up to the facts associated with that.
That point came, but it didn’t deliver. Instead, it ceded to one of the worst endings I’ve come across in this genre to date, and what disturbed me were not only the implications in its meaning, but also the way it was delivered. It’s not even a genuine revelation, it’s just emotional blackmail and B.S. just to keep you reading.
This part isn’t the spoiler, so I won’t put it under a spoiler tag: it turns out that David is a serial killer. He’s killed other women – the vignettes through the narrative show that he has a certain measure of manipulation with each of his previous girlfriends. Emotionally drawing them in, asking them to prove his love for them, tying them up and “pushing” them to places where they drown and meet their respective ends. That’s messed up enough, right? The vignettes give a decent snapshot of each of David’s experiences with each girl, and there’s a thriller/horror element to this tale that makes it a dark read. This had me at odds, but I thought Emma would see this eventually and that it could go a number of ways for development. It took a long while in the narrative for her to realize, especially with respect to facts she comes across right in front of her face about David’s nature and reactions, that something’s wrong with this dude.
But as usual, a typical NA writer ignores pertinent factual details to yield to the messed up “love story.” Emma not only denies the details in front of her (i.e. being drunk in some measures, which causes her to look past these things), but she sticks with the dude and even justifies his actions.
The worst part (and this is the spoiler):
This narrative pretty much says it’s okay for your lover to kill you as long as you let him do it to prove your love for him. And it’s insinuated that Emma’s dropped off the bridge to die. The story ends with David realizing that he’s “crazy” and “messed up” – but what does that really mean to him when he’s done this at least six or seven times before? What does this say about the casual, inaccurate portrayal of mental illness when people say he’s messed up or turn the other way in the face of all of these things happening with Emma (a problem that really occurs throughout the narrative – as many events are turned a blind eye in Emma’s sufferings for the sake of drama). And the narrative pretty much ends with the same measure it began – no threads tied, and a really cheap cliffhanger to lead into a potential other book.
In a word: NO. If you want to advocate violence against women in your narratives and promote them falling into this manipulative kind of mind game willy nilly for the sake of love, then that’s not worth my time or my money to deal with, and I will speak wholeheartedly against it.
I’m done and over it, especially seeing it in this genre.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher.