Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: UNBECOMING, by Rebecca Scherm

Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm. Published 2015 by Viking. Fiction.

Think of Unbecoming as the anti-Goldfinch. The commonalities are as follows: a coming of age story, set in New York, about art and restorers and getting away with fraud. Where The Goldfinch was redemptive, Unbecoming is unrepentant; where The Goldfinch slogged and took forever to get to the point, Unbecoming keeps you flying through the pages. Where The Goldfinch's protagonist finds freedom in telling the truth, the lead of Unbecoming becomes her true self only when she stops trying to be respectable.

Unbecoming tells the story of Grace, a young woman from Tennessee with some secrets. As the story opens she's living in Paris under a new name, trying to hide from friends back home who are about to get out of prison for a robbery in which she could be implicated. She works for a shady dealer doing restoration work on antiques- the kind of place where no one asks too many questions about sticky things like provenance or legality. The details of Grace's roll out slowly and I don't want to spoil anything, but the narrative goes back and forth between Grace's backstory- growing up in Tennessee, her relationship with her boyfriend Riley, a sweet boy from a prominent local family, her time in college in New York, her introduction to the world of appraising and how it all shakes out when she gets the idea to capitalize on her new skills. Meanwhile, in the present tense, fishy things are going on in the restoration studio, more like a fine art and jewelry chop shop, and Grace fears her number may be up sooner rather than later.

It sounds like a lot of information but Scherm relates it economically and the book reads very, very quickly. I read the book in two or three days; Grace is a complicated, fascinating character and things didn't really go the way I expected- and I liked that. Her relationship with Riley's family is particularly poignant, the story of an abandoned child who tries to belong somewhere that doesn't really want her. And her journey is that story writ large, until she finds the one person with whom she can be herself, and she accepts that self, and revels in it.

Unbecoming sits for me somewhere between literary and commercial fiction and would make a great beach read for readers of either genre. It's trashy in the best way, page-turning and engaging about the risks and rewards of bad behavior. At the same time Grace's story is moving and fun. Unbecoming is a terrific fun read, unpredictable and entertaining. I'd love to see a movie made of Unbecoming, and I can't wait to read what Scherm writes next.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of Unbecoming from the publisher.