Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)
How far would you go to get what you always wanted?
Party girl and music lover Kate Sanford comes closer than most to achieving her lifelong dream when she secures a job interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line. The interview has the potential to be even more special, as it is slated for her 31st birthday. However, when a friend invites her out (just for one drink) to celebrate the eve of her birthday, Kate downs a few too many – leading to a disaster the next morning.
Catherine McKenzie, in her debut novel, ably invites the reader into the story. Just when Kate believes she has blown her opportunity, she gets a call to go on an undercover assignment for the company’s sister publication, Gossip Central, a celebrity rag. Her task is to enter the same rehab facility as pop-phenom Amber Sheppard, “The Girl Next Door,” and produce an exclusive story that could lead to permanent employment at The Line. The opportunity for a juicy expose gets even better when TGND’s equally dysfunctional boyfriend and James Bond portrayer, Connor Parks, enters the same rehab facility.
Things quickly get very complicated. Does Kate herself actually need rehab? When Amber befriends her, can so go through with the story? Is there a more meaningful existence beyond living the life of a perpetual college student? Can Kate get comfortable enough with herself that she can form a meaningful relationship with another person?
In rehab Kate falls for Connor’s bodyguard, Henry. Their unlikely convergence and subsequent relationship/non-relationship/relationship form the basis for most of the second half of the book. This is where the story either takes off or gets derailed, depending on your perspective. McKenzie misses an opportunity to delve deeply into the pathos of the media entertainment industry and the addiction to celebrity of so many seemingly normal people. The moral quandary as to whether Kate should write the story comes into play in the last fourth of the novel, but serves more as a mechanism to wrap up the story than a theme that’s explored.
The author could have opted to delve deeper into Kate’s behavior, background and possible addiction, but her family and past are dealt with in a cursory manner. This oversight makes less credible any transformation in Kate at the conclusion of the story. Several music references reveal Kate’s interests and help establish some measure of place and time but do not do much to advance the story or reveal much about her or the other characters.
What’s left is the love story which, by a process of elimination, appears to be the crux of the narrative. Can Kate find true love? The book leaves just enough loose ends to satisfy the reader, yet still leave us wondering.
For readers who enjoy a light, breezy love story, this book clips along well and is satisfying. For those who prefer to go a little deeper into some questions that gnaw at the human condition, the novel does not go far enough. This reviewer concludes that many will find this book enjoyable; a worthy debut effort by McKenzie.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Spin was released on February 7, 2012. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.