You know when you think of the perfect retort for a heated situation after the event? Even decades after the event? That is the premise of The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks. Although, it begins with shy, mild-tempered Caroline Jacobs telling the president of the PTA at her daughter’s school to fuck off. Excellent stuff.
“In the cafeteria of Benjamin Banneker High School, surrounded by crowded bulletin boards, scuffed linoleum, and the lingering smell of chicken nuggets, Caroline Jacobs had shouted a four-letter word.”
Within pages of ‘the scene’, Caroline is taking teenage daughter Polly on a road-trip, back to her home town to confront Emily Kaplan, her childhood best friend who unceremoniously dumped Caroline 25 years ago in the middle of the school cafeteria. It really is the stuff of dreams – who hasn’t had someone in their past that they would like to say “Hey, about that time when you did…” – and it often seems the more petty the crime, the greater the grievance.
It is the rehearsed speeches and Caroline’s plans for vengeance that work best in this story. Perhaps Matthew Dicks didn’t feel that was enough and subplots involving Polly and Caroline’s mother and her pet-cemetery were added. Honestly, I could have done without them – the extra plot threads lessened the impact of the exquisite dinner-party scene and the final message. A novella focused on Caroline alone would have been far pithier but I guess novellas don’t sell as well.
This is the second book by Dicks that I’ve read (the first being Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend). He creates extremely memorable characters and they seem to be effortlessly well-crafted – unique and attractive (not in a physical sense but rather attractiveness to readers because you want to know more). Take his brief description of the PTA president –
“Mary Kate Dinali was well equipped for this sort of verbal combat. She had spent her entire life conquering sidewalk fiefdoms, forging parental alliances, and coalescing suburban power. This was her life’s work. She was a master in the art of indignation…”
You know exactly who Mary Kate is.
3/5 The Perfect Comeback is a perfect beach read.
I received my copy of The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
“Emily had become a woman who garnished lemonade with mint.”