Early Review: The Rest of Us by Jessica Lott

Photography has always been my favorite visual art medium. The way you can manipulate images, augmenting, deleting, saturating or making them fade into the background, it’s hard to lie in a photograph. It captures the truth, every time, or at least a version of it.

Terry’s a photographer of sorts. As a student she captured those truths, eagerly planning out projects and flinging herself into them, unable to hold back. And, as young people are inclined to do, she fell in love with an older man, Rhinehart, with the same unyielding passion and verve. Their relationship goes down in flames almost a year later, and while Rhinehart was able to move on, Terry never quite managed to. Fifteen years later she stumbles over his obituary online…and then runs into him in a department store.

I’m proving myself a liar with this review. I hadn’t intended to write this now, instead meaning to wait until my usual month end post. There were too many problems with The Rest of Us for me to give it an unequivocal YES you must read this book, yet here I am, detailing the story in such a manner that might convince you, one way or another, to read it.

One of the hallmarks of literary fiction, to me, is the unflinching way it digs into the deepest of emotions and pulls them screaming to the surface. They’re laid out for everyone to see. It’s like baring your innermost thoughts on a drunken bender, only you have the discomfort of remembering everything the next day.

We don’t quite get there, which is strange, for two reasons: the aforementioned literary fiction aspect and that it’s told in first person, entirely from Terry’s point of view. First person narrative is normally a great way to get sucked into a character’s head, and at times, we do. During the early months of her reemerging relationship with Rhinehart Terry see-saws back and forth, certain he wants her and uncertain about what to do about it. He’s pulled away before and she’s not equipped to handle the doubts and depression that comes with it, or so she thinks. Then she pulls herself up by her bootstraps and reminds herself she’s a grown woman, not the girl she was with him, and she can push and pull with the best of them.

But Lott doesn’t push and pull enough. We’re led right up to the edge, but when we start windmilling our arms to keep our balance, something nudges us back to safety, rather than tipping us ass over teakettle down the cliff side.

What really shines is the photography. You can imagine in vivid detail the photos Terry snaps, or plans, the series she puts together, how the light will catch a certain object and refract it. It’s like an exhibit of Graham Nash and Hedi Slimane and Diane Arbus and Annie Liebovitz crushed together. I wanted to dash out and buy those pictures, even though they didn’t exist.

There was something about The Rest of Us that made me kept turning the pages, even when I should have been reading something else because I had a review coming up or it was due back at the library. I think it’s that indescribable thing that, even with all its flaws, makes it possible for Terry and Rhinehart and their convoluted dance to get under your skin. It’s not a brilliant story. I’m hesitant to even call it a great story. It doesn’t tread any new ground or make us think over familiar territory in a new way. The ending, meant to rip you in two, is almost predictable. Terry’s anguish isn’t the black hole I’d think it would be. Yet I still kept turning pages until the bitter end.

Ultimately, this is a book you’ll have to decide if you want to take a chance on. For what it’s worth, had I seen it in a bookstore, I likely would have picked it up.

The Rest of Us releases July 2, 2013. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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