Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

The story of two best friends growing up in the eighties… Well, obviously I was going to read Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others.

Meadow and Carrie meet in high school and although their opinions differ on many things, they bond over movies and become best friends. Both pursue a career in movie-making (it’s LA in the 80s so everyone’s in the business, right?) although take different paths. Meadow makes gritty documentaries while Carrie finds success through lighter films with broader appeal.

There’s a third key character in this story – Jelly, a woman who has formed hundreds of relationships with men over the phone. She cold calls powerful men and seduces them not through sex but through listening.

It’s a novel written in ‘mixed media’ – interviews, catalogues, scripts, first person narration and commentary are used to tell the stories of the three women. Plot twists aren’t always spelled out but rather skirted around, and deduced from jumps in time. In one section Meadow makes a comment which I suspect is Spiotta, speaking as herself –

“I have always been attracted to afterlives, codas, postscripts, discursive asides, and especially misdirection.”

The problem with the piecemeal approach is that some bits are invariably better and more appealing than others. The opening chapter, when Meadow begins an affair with an unnamed but powerful Hollywood director is brilliant –

“Understand, I was no groupie, no seeker of famous men. He seemed to me, for whatever reason, a chagrined innocent, a man I could trust. So I kissed him, then pulled back and waited for it to change my life.”

Sections where Carrie and Meadow dissect ‘historic’ movies flagged but broader references to movies in the context of popular culture were interesting –

“…what Meadow once told me about being an artist. It is partly a confidence game. And partly magic. But to make something you also need to be a gleaner. What is a gleaner? Well, it is a nice word for thief, except you take what no one wants. Not just unusual ideas or things. You look closely at the familiar to discover what everyone else overlooks or ignores or discards.”

Movie buffs can find the list of films Spiotta used (and why) here.

3/5 I wasn’t engrossed but yes, a clever book.

I received my copy of Innocents and Others from the publisher, Scribner, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

“I was addicted to the slightly cooked peppermint-chemical taste of Diet Dr. Pepper. The flavor had a wave of sweet followed by something bitter and then something metal; it was so close to repulsive, and yet I had grown to crave it. I tried to figure it out nearly every time I drank it. Is it marshmallow or peppermint? Is it a cola with a fruit flavor? With an undertaste of saccharin?”

innocents-and-others-dana-spiotta

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5 responses

    • I think there was too much emphasis in the blurb on the character of Jelly (as well as the implied ‘erotic phone time’) – it’s not this at all and Jelly, while important, is not the focus.
      The book made a lot of ‘best of’ lists and I can see why although it needed to be a little tighter and more focused to get a 4 from me.
      I’ll look forward to your thoughts Susan.

    • Yes, exactly that – a little too ambitious. Hadn’t thought it until you mentioned it but yes, a film would be perfect 😁 (would deal with the jumps in time and would do a better service to the character of Jelly).

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