The Other Girl
Short fiction is a difficult form. You have to keep your focus narrow and your language compelling. Luckily, Alexandra Ares knows this, and, in less than two hundred pages, she creates a beautiful, evocative, emotional tale of two broken people trying to heal.
The book opens with Max, a young programmer, suggesting that he and his girlfriend move in together. She rejects him, and we learn that Max has no apartment, no home. In the search for some stability, he rents a room from Gia, a beautiful, slightly older woman, who keeps him at arm’s length. As they get to know each other, the walls gradually fall down, and the heart of the story occurs one whiskey-assisted night when Gia finally tells her story. Ares allows Gia’s tale to fill pages and pages, proving that this book is about where these two are now, not where they are going.
A lesser writer would turn this into a typical romance, with the pair finding happiness and hope again in each other’s arms. But Ares does not fall for this cliche. She is content to let her characters be, and the book is better for it. Max and Gia’s stories are fascinating, tender, and imminently relatable. They are both imperfectly likeable, and their tragedies are personal and small, but endlessly interesting.
The prose surrounding their intimate revelations is perfectly suited to the narrative. Ares’s words are beautiful and poignant, creating a vivid emotional picture but never distracting from the inner turmoil of the characters. She is talented without showing off, and The Other Girl reads like a subtle poem.
The opening quote is from Lolita, and this is a great choice. Though the relationships discussed in the following pages are much more legal (and less disturbing) than the one in Nabokov’s classic, they are no less damaging. Usually I would say that including a quote from a famous author is a bit presumptuous, but Ares’s skill supports the selection. This is a gorgeous, delicate, full-bodied book, and it is wonderful.
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