This is not a book that can be easily put down and picked up again. I don't think I've read a book in a long time that needs to be 'chewed and swallowed' quite like this one. Egan's writing is like the treasure in an archeological dig-you have to dig deep to get to it. (And yes, I know exactly how cliched that sounds.) She is very easily able to explore the irony of a neighborhood that can buy their children birthday parties involving plaster sculptures made in each of the guest's faces, but can't buy their way out of familial disputes, child abandonment, disgrace, embarrasment, affairs, and alcohol and drug abuse. None of the individuals in the book can quite achieve what they want-because none of them know what they want, or, have the guts to follow their dreams.
Carly is one of the most unlikely heroines you'll ever find. She's overweight, unmotivated, prefers watching TV to almost everything else, is infatuated with her best friend, has a father who made his fortune in panties and bras, is stepped on by an overbearing mother, and is (not surprisingly) depressed. And she hates reading, even though the object of her infatuation, Hunter, is a straight-A student and always has a book in hand. It takes a down-on-her-luck author to attempt to show both Carly and Hunter that while reading may not change everything, it has the power to change you-and what you decide to do with that power may change everything about you.
Egan relies heavily on one of her favorite writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, to help her along in telling her story. She also uses invitations, emails, essay headings and auction listings in a creative montage that makes the story's format interesting to take apart. Gibson relentlessly takes the writing process, publishing industry, and novel apart in a way that shows her to be devoted and an expert in her art. While there is an incredibly huge cast of characters, it's not difficult to remember them, as Gibson gives us delicously gossip-y little tidbits 'Desperate Housewives-style' about them that make them hard to forget. Gibson is a master at what she does, making her characters flawed and realistic, and in the end giving them a happy ending that may not be 'real,' but is optimistic.