Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

 
published 2017


 
Last Act of Hattie Hoffman 2Last Act of Hattie Hoffman
 
 


I pulled up at school in Greg’s old truck and waved at Portia, who was just walking in. She waited for me.

‘OMG, I love it,’ Portia said, eyeing my outfit as I walked up. ‘Turn around.’

‘You like?’ I did a catwalk turn. My first-day-of-school outfit was the best New York impression I could find in the Apache mall in Rochester – a black pencil skirt and a gray twinset with my black church heels that had the pointy toes…

‘You’re so East Coast, darling.’

‘And you are totally California chic.’ I grinned at her sundress and chunky sunglasses. ‘I guess it makes sense that we’re meeting in the middle.’

Portia laughed, slung her arm through mine, and pulled me inside.

 
commentary: It’s no use getting too fond of Hattie Hoffman, because she is the victim in the book – there is a dual timeframe, so the story of the investigation (seen through the eyes of the sheriff) is interleaved with her own thoughts on life in the year leading up to her death, and the thoughts of another major character. All three are first person.

This is an unusual and very well-constructed book, and it catches you in unexpected corners. I don’t think anyone could predict its twists and turns, either as plot or at a deeper level in the ways the characters develop and change, and the ways our views of them change.

It is an extremely well-written book, with a level of imagination and an achieved voice that is rare in any literary work. I am, as regular readers know, not one to undervalue crime fiction compared with so-called literary fiction, but this was one book that I almost thought would work better as a novel. It’s apparent to us from early on that Hattie is a very nice person, and very well-liked, although she thinks of herself as ‘different’ from those around her (but then what teenager doesn’t?). She is sure her future must lie in New York City, far away from the small town in Minnesota where she lives, far away from the farmlands and barns and pickup trucks. She catches the eye of a High School football star, she pursues her ambitions to act, she works at the drugstore, and she goes online to research her future in New York – and to meet other potential literary, arty and theatre types.

So you can see there’s plenty of potential for things to go wrong. And they do.

last act of Hattie Hoffman 3

The book features two of her amateur theatre productions – Jane Eyre (‘I’ll wear a grey dress with white cuffs’) and Macbeth – and it shows that she is acting all the time off-stage too: she is presenting herself to people as she thinks they want to see her. So which of her acts brought her to the barn where her life ended? How could such a thing happen to such a girl? Mindy Mejia has answers, and they may be ones that the reader disagrees with. The book is very nuanced, and makes you think hard about behaviour, and results, and responsibility. The US title of the book is Everything You Want Me to Be, and you can make a case for both UK and US choices.

It’s also a funny, warm, charming book (perhaps surprisingly), where you sympathize with all the characters to some extent. Unlike most literary teens, Hattie has a good relationship with her parents, and when her Dad talks about her dating, this is her response:
‘Did you get those convent brochures you’ve been waiting for?’ I yelled at his back and heard him chuckle.
I first heard about this book over at Bernadette’s Reactions to Reading, and her conclusion was that it’s ‘an unsettling, surprising, compelling and ultimately very satisfying read’. And I agree completely.


















19 comments:

  1. I'm very glad you enjoyed this one, Moira. I do keep hearing great things about it, and it sounds quite well-written. Just from the snippet you've shared, it seems the writing flows along nicely, too. Hmm...may have to look this one up.

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    1. Take a look Margot - if it appeals at all then I think you will enjoy it. It is one of the cleverest and most nuanced books I have read this year.

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  2. You keep expanding my Amazon wish list, this sounds so good.

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    1. I know, sorry! But I really do recommend this one...

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  3. I'm going to have to nitpick - but school starts the last week of August in most parts of the Middle West, and not only is it still freakin' hot here, but few older, rural schools are air-conditioned (the spousal unit teaches in a building that dates back to the 1920's. No A/C).

    The girl in the sundress will have a great day. The girl in the twinset won't.

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    1. That's hilarious! Thanks for the helpful info. Perhaps there are undetected undertones into why her school year is going to end badly - going wrong right from the start...

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  4. I'm always so relieved when a book I've recommended has been enjoyed...and agree with you that the healthy teenager/parent relationship is nice to see

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    1. ... and very rare! I know what you mean, though of course not your fault if I hadn't liked it. But no such possibility, this was a top-grade recommendation.

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    1. Actually you'd probably like this one...but I know you do have enough books already!

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  6. OK. You're the second person to recommend it, as I also first read about it on RTR. It's on my life, but it seems like the gods are conspiring for me not to fulfill my New Year's resolution to read some "literary" fiction.

    I did read Zadie Smith's "Swing Time," and that was good, but no other nonmysteries.

    Every time I see a good review of a book that the library has, my TBR piles and lists and my firm "10 books I must read this year that are not mysteries" list goes out the window.

    I will read this one if the library had it, just maybe not now.

    And by the way, I like the fashion look at the top with the gray tops and black skirt or pants. I used to try to pull off that look years ago for awhile, but no longer. Too many body changes.

    But for awhile I wore a black pencil skirt with high black suede boots and a cashmere beige turtleneck sweater. And occasionally, a rust wool scarf draped around my neck. No longer though.

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  7. Correction: line 2 is "list," not "life."

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    1. I knew what you meant! I really liked this one, and would love to know what you make of it. But there are too many books to tempt us, new ones and old ones too.
      Love the sound of that outfit. I used to think grey was a dull colour for clothes, but have changed my mind now.

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  8. Sounds interesting, I may read it someday. I do like multiple narratives and the way this is set up sounds especially good. I just don't often buy books when they first come unless it is a favorite author. Which is basically what I said at Bernadette's post also.

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    1. I'm guessing you are going to read a lot more praise on the blogs until you are forced to read it! But you can wait till it turns up somewhere.

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  9. I agree with you 100%. The book has so many layers (no pun...sorry), and since I grew up in MN, I loved the setting, which really comes alive. In the book I liked Hattie's gray and black outfit. I have to respectfully disagree with Shay, though. I have family in Duluth whose kids start their school year after Labor Day..always have since I lived there as well. Therefore, the twin set would work because you know MN weather!

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    1. Thanks for coming to comment - it was an excellent book wasn't it? And controversy on clothes is always welcome - you and Shay have your own opinions, which is fine...

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    2. It's true -- they say of the Midwest, if you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes.

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    3. They used to say that in Seattle too...

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