Allison Winn Scotch’s new novel, In Twenty Years, is my favorite beach book of 2016. It has a lot in common with Emma Straub’s widely-reviewed light novel, Modern Lovers. Both center on the midlife crises of a group of old college friends–and, coincidentally, one of the group members in each book is a rock star.
Scotch’s novel is more focused: it takes place during a weekend reunion. Five friends gather for the 4th of July weekend in the house they shared as students in Philadelphia. The twist? It is not their idea. Their friend, Bea, who died in a car crash 13 years ago, was the one who kept the group together. They learn that Bea bought the old house before her death when they receive invitations from Bea’s lawyer (at her written request) to convene for what would have been her fortieth birthday.
None of these characters is happy. Lindy, a petulant rock star, loves to write songs, but the studio wants to keep her music “young,” and now gives her studio songs to pass off as her own. Annie, a wealthy housewife, suffered from postpartum depression and had a problem with prescription psychotropic drugs, but now posts on Facebook and Instagram to convince herself she’s happy. Catherine’s blog, The Crafty Lady, has become a big business, and she is under pressure and never home. Her husband, Owen, a househusband, is as directionless as Annie. (it’s hard to stay home.) And Colin, a former neurosurgeon, switched fields to cash in on plastic surgery in L.A. They are no longer the simple people Bea loved.
The structure is slightly formulaic: we see each character’s reaction to the invitation, their discomfort during their initial interactions, and finally the tension builds to a crisis. It’s predictable, yet I loved it. I kept highlighting passages, especially about the effect of social media on women’s lives. (The men characters don’t seem to need it).
I’m fascinated by the social media issues, because of blogging (my only social medium online). Catherine’s Crafty Lady blog has grown from a fun project with 125 hits a day into a big business–and it is a nightmare. She is constantly thinking about the competition.
The Crafty Lady has seen a treacherous slide over the past year; copycat bloggers have produced content faster and fresher, with younger demographics and hipper ideas. So if she doesn’t work these late nights, doesn’t slave over the right color of napkins, then the treacherous slide will evolve into a full-blown avalanche. And then what? They’ve built their whole lives around her success. Owen included.
For Annie, social media saves her from actual communication. Throughout the weekend she tweets, updates Facebook, and posts to Instagram. She feels comfortable if she doesn’t have to interact, especially with Colin, whom she has always loved. As soon as she arrives she takes a photo of the house for Facebook.
Maybe she won’t have to toy with the pigmentation too much to shift it from a photo of a sort-of pretty, but nothing special, house with navy bricks and white shutters (they used to be teal bricks with purple shutters—no one was ever sure why, but they affectionately nicknamed it “Bruiser,” and the moniker stuck) to something magical. Something emotive. Something that the women from school or Pilates or spin class (none of whom Annie really thinks of as friends because, well, she doesn’t have a lot of real friends) will see and think, OMG! Annie, I wish I was there with you, wherever you are! Xoxoxoxoxoxo!!!!! She takes the photo four different times, satisfied with the last version, aware that the distraction has calmed her nerves, blocked out the dizzying noise clattering inside her mind. She posts it to Facebook. Filter: vintage
Lindy doesn’t use social media much–her publicist writes hers. But when she is recognized at a bar in Philadelphia, students post about her on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Suddenly everyone, including a very nice man in New York she has been sleeping with, knows where she is. She has lied to her girlfriend in California and to her publicist about her whereabouts.
Well, eventually everyone comes together–sort of. But, believe me, this is not The Big Chill or The Return of the Secaucus Seven.
A really enjoyable light book with a little bit of darkness! For women only, just so you’ll know. 🙂