Monday, July 5, 2010

Who Got Liz Gardner by Elizabeth Allen

When Liz, a married financial advisor, logs on to her high school website in an attempt to generate business, she lands in a chat room made up of her male classmates and lovers from 30 years before. There she witnesses a testosterone-laden discussion and a much unexpe ted question. “Does anyone know who got Liz Gardner?” The sheer irony that she would be a topic of this world wide circle jerk on her one and only visit catapults her into a graphic exploration of her life's journey-with all the erotic, tragic, and hilarious lessons and detours that let to the one “who got her.”

Her journey takes her from Florida to New York to California with a spicy layover in Denver. She grows through divorced parents, abortion, love triangles, infidelity, confused intentions, homeless junkies, aliens, vegetarians, stalkers, past life lesbians, ghosts and angels.

Oh, and men. Definitely men.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I began “Who Got Liz Gardner.” However, the book quickly sucked me in, and I found I couldn't put it down for too long. Told like a memoir, there is so much genuine, realistic detail that I had to wonder how much could truly be fiction. I rejoiced early on to read an accurate description of that oh-so-painful and awkward first time. It is clear from that scene and throughout the book, Elizabeth Allen isn't afraid to tell it like it is. Especially when it comes to Liz. With her blunt honesty and unapologetic attitude, Liz feels completely real, she could be someone sitting next to you in traffic or in front of you at Starbucks.

I admit I'm surprised that I even liked Liz, let alone that I loved her. Liz did things that I would never, ever do, and at points I found myself saying “Why? Why would you ever do that?” but the thing that kept me from writing her off as a ridiculous, silly woman was that I knew and understood the reasons behind her behavior. Elizabeth Allen gives such a finely drawn description of Liz's dysfunctional family and her relationships with her overly dramatic mother and shady father that it's not hard to see why Liz makes the mistakes she does, and in fact it makes her that much more of a sympathetic and likable character. This book isn't about Liz overcoming her screwed up childhood, emerging from it completely unscathed and goody-two shoes perfect, but like most people in the real world, sorting through her baggage and maturing past it.

This journey is the main plot of the book, Liz's experiences and how they ultimately led her to “the one”. The ironic thing about “Who Got Liz Gardner” is that the book isn't so much about who did, as about who didn't get Liz Gardner. Liz's early relationships take the main stage, while the answer to the question is a brief mention in the last pages. One main relationship reminded me of my own ex, that one person that you know isn't really right for you but you try to force it to work anyway. Throughout her relationships, long-term and well, not, Liz's growth is evident right up to the point when she realizes that she is ready for “the one” and can feel herself getting closer to meeting him. I love how self-aware Liz is, how able she is to understand her needs and to do whatever it takes to meet them. Liz's acting career is also an important component of the book, it is what takes her to the different locations and where she meets the men in her life. I was slightly disappointed that her acting career never seemed to really take off, but I appreciated how dedicated she was to it.

I think one of my only criticisms (if you can call it that) of this book is that it is not written in the traditional sense that is required of most books: character has goal, something is in the way, character overcomes obstacle, cue happy ending. I think perhaps some readers will have trouble with the plot being very loose and flowy, Liz going from one thing to another. Like anyone living their life in the moment, there isn't always a ton of motivation or reason.

There are many characters in the novel, some of whom appear quickly and leave just as fast. Most of Liz's friends are inserted for convenience and then not mentioned again, but I didn't mind because it is obvious that they are not integral parts of the story, so really, who cares? Other mainstays such as her mother and dog, make numerous appearances. Like Liz, I initially thought I wouldn't like her mother Radiance, but I found myself highly entertained by her antics and she is well-intentioned (toward Liz, at least). I liked that Liz's dog, Marlena, was one consistency in the book that never wavered. Devoted to my own dog, I completely related to Liz's love for her loyal pet. Her roommate Hippolyta (nicknamed Lyta, not Hippo, fyi) was also good for some laughs.

In addition to an engaging, fast-paced story, the writing itself is excellent (with the exception of a few typos and misspellings, which I forgive). There were numerous places I laughed out loud, emphasis on the loud (got some weird looks when I read it at work.) Some of my favorite lines (that I wish I'd come up with):

We loved him, had time invested in this relationship, and were angry at him. Do we pull DiCaprio in or let him freeze?”

Hanging out with friends should reduce stress, like meditation, or orgasms. Take your pick.”

To summarize, if he had a pet bunny, I think I would've cooked it...of course, I would have braised it with a fruity, yet piquant Chardonnay. I'm not a total barbarian.”

And while there were too many funny lines and scenes to recount, there were also ones that made me cry, the tragic losses that we all experience at one time or another. Overall I found this book 100% engrossing and entertaining, and so honest I felt like I might be reading a diary that I wasn't supposed to find but couldn't bear to slip back in its hiding place.

I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel, I'm curious to see what Liz will get herself into next.


Lydia Kang said...

Great review! I am going to have to read this. I've learned enough about it on this review and others that I know now, it's time to buy.
Thanks Danielle and Liz!

Zooks said...

Am putting this on my 'wish list'. Very good reviewk, DaniSue, well done.