I read Liana Maeby’s book South on Highland a few days ago. It’s hard to explain how I felt about it ~ basically, loved the writing and disliked the story. How does that make any sense? Idk, but it’s the best I can do.
Maeby’s writing is fresh and interesting. She really knows how to develop a story. Pacing, metaphors, style… all that. Wonderful!
But I simply did not like the story she told. This may be the first time I could so clearly separate writing from story in this direction. Many times, I’ve started to enjoy a story but didn’t finish the book because the writing was so awful. I’m sure you’ve been there too. The plot/characters were interesting, but there were so many errors in spelling/tense/grammar that I couldn’t focus. Not the case with Maeby ~ her writing is perfect.
It’s not that Maeby’s protag was merely unlikeable ~ I actively despised her. I knew I couldn’t hope she would die because it was in first person, but still… ughhh. Spoiled princess abuses substances to the extreme, squanders her talent, goes to rehab. Loads of promiscuous and stupid sex. Creepy and despicable supporting cast. Etc. We’ve all read a story like this before and seen one on TV. Yet… yet… the writing was so damn good. I had to finish the book.
And finally… the ending. A semi-redemption. Not going to say a word about it because I think you should read this book for the writing and I hope the ending blows you away too. It didn’t cause me to like the protag any better but goddamn was that a surprise and… it made me envious that someone could write like that. When I start to feel those green claws scratching at me, I know I’ve discovered a good writer.
I found this interview of Maeby and was happy to see that SoH was less of a memoir than I had assumed. It made me like the author more to read that she spent three years writing this book, sober, and the story began as a satire of the recovery culture, but morphed into something serious. Cool. I can totally see the seeds of satire now that she said this. It really is over the top. OK. So, I’ve followed Maeby on Amazon and Twitter (she’s fucking funny, yo), and I’ll read her next book, hoping for a story that appeals to me.
Disclosure: I gave SoH only 3 stars on Goodreads, but I don’t think of that as a “bad” rating. Three stars means you liked the book. That was my compromise between loving the writing and hating the story. Two stars means it was okay, and I wanted to give more than that. But 4 is really liked it and 5 is amazing, so those would not have been accurate. (One is did not like.) I think Amazon has a better 5-star system: hate, dislike, okay, like, love. On that system, SoH gets a 4-star rating.