The Girls from Corona del Mar
- Rufi Thorpe
- Alfred A. Knopf
- 256 pp.
- Reviewed by Melonie Stothers
- August 13, 2014
Debut novel offers great detail, little heart on two girls’ troubled friendship.
Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel, The Girls from Corona del Mar, is the classic story of childhood friends growing apart as they age into adulthood and a stark reminder that you can never truly know another person, no matter how close a bond you share.
Mia and Lorrie Ann are best friends from a working-class town in California. Each is smart and eager to take on the world. Yet in the mind of the narrator, Mia, the girls are opposites, their personalities such that there’s always complete balance between the two.
Mia is gritty and heartless, raised in a broken home by an alcoholic mother. Lorrie Ann is beautiful, good, and contemplative, raised in a loving, religious family. Even as tragedy after tragedy strikes Lorrie Ann, Mia continues to view herself as an opposing force, never really owning her own personality.
We quickly learn that Mia ultimately left Corona del Mar and studied classics — specifically, the story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Thorpe pays homage to the legend throughout the novel, making contrived and painful plot choices for Lorrie Ann so as to parallel Inanna in the modern day. Mia loves Inanna as she loves Lorrie Ann, and because of that, she can see no wrong in either of them.
The novel opens with Mia recounting an abortion she had at 15, with Lorrie Ann by her side. The events of the day are replayed in great detail, from the girls stopping for burgers to Mia’s drunk mother interrupting their plans. But Thorpe stops short, leaving the reader to guess as to the mindset of the girls.
Most jarring, Thorpe provides no insight into the mindset of the adult narrator allegedly remembering her own abortion. We are left to wonder how it shaped Mia and how it fits with Lorrie Ann’s story. The events of that day are recalled again later when the girls have an argument, but more as a point of reference than an emotional exchange.
When Lorrie Ann suffers an excruciating loss — her son suffers severe brain damage during birth — Thorpe describes the scene with clinical detail, never allowing the reader to know the pain that must be engulfing the characters.
This book ultimately failed for me because of that repeated lack of emotional response in the face of tragedy. I ended up disliking Mia and Lorrie Ann and everyone else they encountered, with few exceptions. One exception was Franklin, Mia’s boyfriend and academic partner. He is genuine. When faced with heartache, he turns to the bottle. It’s an honest reaction.
A handful of redeeming characters, however, isn’t enough to salvage a novel whose protagonists are two-dimensional. When Mia at one point finds Lorrie Ann on the streets of Istanbul, homeless, shoeless, and hungry, she shows no love, no pity, no surprise, no nothing. There is no truth in that.
While parts of The Girls from Corona del Mar make for perfect summer reading, I was quite disappointed with this novel overall. It makes the reader uncomfortable just for the sake of producing that response. Maybe that means this novel is effective; it had the power to evoke a visceral response, at least in this reader.
Melonie Stothers is a mom, wife, and full-time employment defense attorney in the metropolitan Detroit area.