BookBrowse Reviews George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl

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George and Lizzie

by Nancy Pearl

George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl X
George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2018, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
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George and Lizzie is an intimate story of new and past loves, the scars of childhood, and an imperfect marriage at its defining moments.

One of my favorite aspects of college was meeting new people and hearing their personal histories. That was a time of life when we had both the time, and the inclination to share secrets and reflect on past decisions. Perhaps I'm simply nosy, but I'm genuinely interested in people's stories. George and Lizzie put me in mind of long lazy chats with friends—slightly circular, occasionally random, but always entertaining.

Written in short vignettes, this novel shares the ups and downs of the two title characters, but with a heavier focus on Lizzie. Amiable, optimistic George is crucial to the story as Lizzie's husband, but his experiences, needs, and desires are secondary to hers. Their marriage is somewhat lopsided as well. George is desperate to make Lizzie happy while she is certain she never will be—though she doesn't want him to give up trying.

The novel opens with a scene titled "How They Met," and then moves back and forth from Lizzie's youth to their current relationship and many periods in between. The vignette titles are excellent clues as to what is coming and are a part of the charming story voice. This debut novel by Nancy Pearl, a well-known advocate for reading, will appeal to readers of character-driven women's fiction.

As the daughter of two famous psychologists, Lizzie is carrying some serious emotional baggage. When she was growing up, her parents did not interact with her in any meaningful manner, instead they preferred to take notes and observe her behavior, leaving the role of nurturer to her babysitter, Sheila. As a result, Lizzie makes a questionable choice in her senior year of high school to take part in a sexual exploit called "The Great Game" in an attempt to "wake them up enough to finally see her."

Unfortunately, her parents react as she feared, not hoped. They show mild interest in her behavior, and eventually publicize the details in an academic paper, thinly disguising her identity. The result and ramifications of this experience haunt her throughout her adult life, and leave her prone to keeping secrets.

Having never read her parents' paper, George is unaware of "The Great Game." Lizzie's other enormous secret from him is her obsession with her first love, Jack. That relationship ended abruptly when Jack mysteriously failed to return to school as planned, never to be heard from again. The time period of the 1980s and '90s, prior to online research via social media, conveniently allows Lizzie to continue speculating and imagining where Jack might be living (and with whom).

The novel's narrative style is its strength as is its cast of characters. Although Lizzie's parents may not be ideal caregivers, they play a provocative role. Lizzie's college roommate and best friend Marla, along with her boyfriend James, serve as loyal sidekicks but are not afraid to challenge her bad behavior in a satisfying way. George's parents and quirky brother, Kale, add a warmth and depth to the story as well. Even the briefly mentioned participants of "The Great Game" feel honestly drawn; though I did find their universal willingness to play along to be surprising—perhaps even hewing close to stereotype

Beyond the novel's character studies, the plot is simple and wandering—much like many ordinary lives. The pleasure and tension is created organically by the interactions of two divergent personality types as well as real-life moments such as family changes, friends' blessings and struggles, and reaching a crossroads in one's marriage.

Although Lizzie is not conventionally happy, especially in contrast to easy-going George, she is far from morose or self-pitying. Her self-deprecation is surprisingly endearing and contributes to her likeability, even when she's behaving in a frustrating manner. The vignettes that allow us to see her through George's eyes are tender and sweet, but never saccharine. She drives him crazy sometimes, but he loves her regardless, and we do too. Both George and Lizzie feel authentically flawed and gifted in their own particular way—much like those college friends I remember so fondly.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2017, and has been updated for the August 2018 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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