Steve's Reviews > So Much Better

So Much Better by Terri Griffith
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's review
Apr 06, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels
Read from April 06 to 07, 2010

Very little actually happens in So Much Better, not in the sense that it's an uneventful or boring story (far from it!) but rather a story of missed connections, avoided encounters, and important characters only existing "offstage." It deflects the expectations of fiction by building up what seem like major plot elements, and would be in a less inventive novel, only to shift focus away from them. Instead, it focused largely on the mundane hours of Liz' job at a Credit Union, defining her largely through those drab moments -- which is perfect for a woman who uses her cubicle as her legal, permanent address.

What makes all of that so compelling is the way protagonist Liz works hard to maintain her static, safe, but unsatisfying life by avoiding even the most minor risks and dodging circumstances that may lead to unwelcome change, leading a life so carefully orchestrated it can’t help but be dramatically disrupted. Which it is, of course, though those disruptions come in small, quiet ways rather than the more explosive confrontations the story lays groundwork for. Some of the more "exciting" threads of the story (such as the disappearance of Liz’ sister, or an affair with her girlfriend's teenage sister) are left unresolved and even undeveloped, but the smaller disruptions the story focuses on are enough, because in Liz’ world they’re huge. As she struggles to maintain control and order, and to avoid drawing attention to herself, the stakes rise as high as they would around grander events in a noisier, faster-paced novel.

So Much Better is a really impressive example of a novel that allows small things to take on big significance, and of a character study that makes a not always admirable protagonist both deeply sympathetic and deeply believable -- Liz’ decisions and actions, even the most regrettable ones, arise organically and convincingly from who she is, and from how expertly Griffith has crafted the character and her world.

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