Spin by Catherine McKenzie

Book Review
Title: Spin
Author: Catherine McKenzie
Publisher: Harper Weekend
Release: December 20, 2010
Pages: 480 pages
ISBN-10: 1554687594
ISBN-13: 978-1554687596
Stars: 3.5

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know know know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go go go ~ Amy Winehouse

Celebrities in rehab…Theirs is an age-old, yet timeless tale that allows so many of us to feel better about ourselves when we witness that people who seem to have it all are every bit as screwed up as we are.  Certainly anyone who has watched Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew on VH1 knows this.

Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way, and you are beginning to grasp the literary roller coaster ride that is Catherine McKenzie’s Spin. Filled with brutal honesty and wry humour, Spin is a story for anyone who has ever woken up hungover and thought, ‘Do I have a problem? Yes–I need to find a greasy breakfast.’ And by that I mean everyone I know.” –Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail columnist, author of The Continuity Girl

At the beginning of the critically acclaimed chick lit novel Spin by Canadian novelist and lawyer, Catherine McKenzie, 30-year-old wannabe music journalist and party girl Kate Sanford’s life is spinning out of control.  She’s a lying alcoholic who doesn’t acknowledge her own flaws until she’s presented with the opportunity to land the job of her dreams writing about music for The Line magazine.  Only there’s one big catch.  In order to prove to its publishers that she’s got the stuff it takes to be successful in a job that so many people want but few can do well, she has to go to rehab and she can’t tell anyone about it.

Katie’s sent undercover to spy on Hollywood “It Girl”, The Girl Next Door television star, Amber Sheppard and expose the truth about her struggles with crack addiction and her toxic, on-again, off-again relationship with the Young James Bond star, a caricature of one of many handsome, insipid, dickhead Hollywood celebrities: Connor Parks.  Predictably, Katie ends up genuinely liking Amber as she gets to know her in rehab, not to mention Connor Parks’ personal assistant, the strong, attractive, ginger-haired, silent type, Henry Slattery.  As convenience would have it, Connor decides to follow Amber into rehab to f**k with her head and can’t go anywhere without Henry.  (Entourage anyone?)  Here’s where the “will they get together, or won’t they?” scenario comes into play.

McKenzie seems to have done her research where the paparazzi, rehab, and AA meetings are concerned, and there is a genuinely touching moment when another young woman in rehab tries to commit suicide.  There is also a lot of humour in this novel and it was fun to read Katie’s music playlist at the back of the book.  I smiled at the references to my favourite band, U2, in the last chapter.  However, there is nothing interesting about the supporting characters including Katie’s geeky roommate Joanne, her Scottish party pal Greer or her anorexic BFF, Rory.  And although its characters may be honest, there is nothing fresh and unique about this story which is why it makes it the perfect fodder for a formulaic romantic comedy.  If I’m honest, I’d tell you that I’d watch that movie too, particularly if it featured a perfect specimen of man beast eye candy (say a young Paul Bettany) as Henry.

Although Spin is comic and poignant, it’s not heart-breaking.  It does explore the question “How far would you go to get what you always wanted?” as well as “How afraid are you to get what you’ve always wanted? (a relevant question in my life), and although Katie has been compared in the press to a 21st century Bridget Jones, she just doesn’t have that charm and je ne sais quoi that made Bridget Jones the character responsible for the billion dollar chick lit industry that we are familiar with today.  Many writers have tried to emulate Ms. Jones, but none of them have done so with major success and Catherine McKenzie hasn’t done it either.  I will give her full kudos for trying and I do admit that I read this book quite quickly and enjoyed every fun-filled minute of it.  But it’s no work of art.  It’s simply a decent read for a weekend at the beach.

Can any chick lit novel really be a work of art?  Writers can create enjoyable, compelling reads in this genre, and I’ve enjoyed many, but ultimately chick lit is the popcorn of literature.

If you want to watch a film that explores the ridiculousness of fame and the vultures that are the paparazzi, check out Tom DiCillo’s Delirious starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt and Alison Lohman.  It won’t take you as long to watch as it will to read Spin.

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