*Image above via Viking Books
As I have noted previously, I have been in a bit of a reading funk of late. Very busy at work means my brain is often tired and that seems to me fickle reading tastes and being easily distracted.
So when I saw the blurb for Unbecoming, the first novel from Rebecca Scherm, I was intrigued:
On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she’s from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she’s in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Grace’s web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely.
I enjoyed this novel, particularly once it seemed to get going, but I am not really sure what it was trying to be.
The heist aspect is definitely oversold. At its heart it is really a coming of age novel about a deeply flawed person coming to realise that those flaws can’t and won’t be papered over by trying to insert herself into a respectable and functional family. She can’t wish herself into something she is not; for better or worse (mostly worse) she is who she is.
I thought the way Scherm slowly unpacked and revealed Grace was well done. As Grace tries to make sense of who she is, how she got to where and who she is, the reader gradually comes to understand as well.
The whole art heist thread was not well done, however, and ending up being a distraction in many ways. The story really wasn’t about the unsuccessful thievery, or about the backlash from the failed attempt, it was really about who Grace thought she was as the childhood sweetheart of Riley and practically adopted daughter of his mother and who she really is underneath the lies she is constantly spinning.
Any time the story is focused on the details of the heist it stumbles, when it is focused on Grace and the battle between what she knows she should do and what she wants and will do it shines.