Jessica Brockmole’s newest novel, Woman Enters Left, is not the type of book I typically choose to read. If I’d seen it in a bookstore, I might have glanced at it – the cover is pretty cool – but I probably would have passed it up. Fortunately, that’s not what happened. Because this book was kind of amazing. And I am so glad it’s not one I missed out on.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) A woman sets out on a cross-country road trip, unknowingly tracing in reverse the path her mother traveled thirty years before.
In the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: She has inherited the estate of Florence “Florrie” Daniels, a Hollywood screenwriter she barely recalls meeting. Among Florrie’s possessions are several unproduced screenplays, personal journals, and—inexplicably—old photographs of Louise’s mother, Ethel. On an impulse, Louise leaves a film shoot in Las Vegas and sets off for her father’s house on the East Coast, hoping for answers about the curious inheritance and, perhaps, about her own troubled marriage.
Nearly thirty years earlier, Florrie takes off on an adventure of her own, driving her Model T westward from New Jersey in pursuit of broader horizons. She has the promise of a Hollywood job and, in the passenger seat, Ethel, her best friend since childhood. Florrie will do anything for Ethel, who is desperate to reach Nevada in time to reconcile with her husband and reunite with her daughter. Ethel fears the loss of her marriage; Florrie, with long-held secrets confided only in her journal, fears its survival.
In parallel tales, the three women—Louise, Florrie, Ethel—discover that not all journeys follow a map. As they rediscover their carefree selves on the road, they learn that sometimes the paths we follow are shaped more by our traveling companions than by our destinations.
When I first read the synopsis, I was fairly intrigued. As I mentioned, this isn’t the type of book I typically pick up, but it sounded like a fun, summer read. I started this book almost immediately after it came in the mail, and when I read the first page, I honestly didn’t think I was going to like it. It opens with what is essentially set directions, like a movie script (i.e. “We open on…”). The first line is pretty cheesy, and I don’t think it set the tone well for the rest of the book, because the rest of the book is so much better! I’m glad I ended up sticking with it, because it was completely different than what I was expecting, in the best way.
At first glance, this book is about an actress and a road trip. But it goes a lot deeper than that. This novel explores Louise’s identity as she discovers who her mother really was, and the truth about her parents’ relationship. It also tells the story of Louise’s mother, Ethel, and her best friend Florrie, as they travel across the United States. Their relationship was one of the best friendships I’ve seen in a book. It felt complex and real, and I absolutely loved reading it. Each character is so complex and different, and I thought their stories tied in wonderfully.
I particularly enjoyed the pacing of this book. Brockmole uses dual (or triple, I guess) perspectives very well, and there were many times I had to keep reading because I wanted to get more of one or other of the stories. I also really liked the historical aspects of this book. One storyline takes place in the 20s, the other in the 50s, and it was really fun to read about both of them, especially since this book takes place across the US.
The only thing I didn’t love about this novel – apart from the opening line – was the way Ethel’s and Florrie’s journal entries are differentiated. It took me at least half of the book to figure out that it was the way they were dated, and, since they refer to each other by initials only, it was sometimes difficult to figure out at first glance, especially since E and F look so similar when you’re reading quickly. It led to a bit of confusion with regards to the story, and I didn’t like that I had to pay such close attention when I really wanted to find out what happened next.
In a lot of ways, this book blew me away, and I found it difficult to put down. It was a great mix of fun and drama that never got boring. And I am really glad that I gave it a chance.
★★★★☆ – Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Woman Enters Left exceeded my expectations, and ended up being the perfect summer read with a surprising amount of depth. It’s been at least a week since I finished this novel, and I’m still thinking about it. I am definitely planning on reading more of Jessica Brockmole’s work.
Woman Enters Left will be in stores tomorrow, August 8th! You can order a copy on Amazon now.
This book was provided to me by the publisher. All opinions are my own.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may get a small commission for purchases made through this post.