Further Out Than You Thought by Michaela Carter is a novel about a young woman who, upon finding out she’s pregnant, faces the decision of a lifetime. Will she stay with her charming boyfriend and raise their child together, will she rid herself of the fetus, will she dare to disturb her universe, or will she find a compromise? I don’t know what my expectations were for this novel. The blurb lured me enough to request a review copy and, you’ll have to forgive me but, I’m about to gush with unimpeded enthusiasm.
I fell in love with this novel, if not the characters. I read an article a while back about “coming-of-age” novels no longer being limited to the sexual awakening of teenagers and has begun to branch out into young adults moving from youthful irresponsibility to more mature decision making, growing up from being self-indulgent to self-aware. In that sense, this novel is a bildungsroman, as hinted to in the blurb itself.
Gwen lives “in the Neverland that is Los Angeles,” the reader is told, and we quickly meet her in her alter-ego as Stevie, a dancer in a strip club. The novel is rife with literary allusions, from the more obvious Peter Pan and Wizard of Oz to the more subtle. I caught one to The Great Gatsby that the author herself says was unintentional (via Twitter) and followed along with the obvious T S Eliot allusions (The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and Wasteland although I think there was another unintentional nod to Little Giddings). This novel is tightly written, wasting no moment, no metaphor, and the reader feels the claustrophobia of Gwen’s life almost immediately.
I couldn’t help but think this book would make an excellent one for a book group discussion. Look for the symbolic relevance of red used throughout as Gwen repeatedly returns to the womb of her memories, reframing herself as she revisits her past. Also notice water and fire because everything in this novel is simmering and steeping, especially the protagonist.
While I may wish I knew more about how Leo and Gwen grew to love one another, I didn’t need to know all of the details. I was able to fill-in-the-blanks. And I fully expected to rip into the cliché of the flamboyant gay best friend only to find myself falling in love with Count Valiant. The novel is character driven and, for this reason, I could easily see it working effectively as a film, something small, indie, and gritty that would move with Gwen as she herself moves through her choices to the final fulfilling conclusion.
The author teaches writing at Yavapai College and, if this novel is any indication, I would gladly take writing lessons from Michaela Carter any day! I know I could learn a lot from her. As a reader, I found this book intriguing. As a writer, I found it inspiring. And as a woman I found it to be ideal—candid and compassionate towards all of the characters even at their worst moments. My only regret is that we did not get to see inside the protagonist’s graduate school experience. Perhaps in the next novel, with the same or a new protagonist, we’ll get to see that. I know I’m eager for Carter’s next novel (and envy her writing students the luxury of learning from her).