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Getting It Right

April 15, 2018

Several months ago Ron and I went to a big party at the enormous Victorian-style house of some local friends who work at the college. They invited most of the people we work with, so the rooms were crowded. I did what I often do in that kind of situation and spent some time looking at the titles on their bookshelves. They have many, many bookshelves so it took a while, and in one room I noticed that there were several copies of a book. Guessing that it was written by a friend who’d sent them multiple copies, I picked it up and sat down to look at it.

The first chapter, which I read while people circulated around me, was interesting enough that when we sought out the hostess to say goodbye, I asked her about the book. She insisted I take the copy I’d picked up, which was a little embarrassing, but after a couple of reiterations I decided it was a genuine offer and the thing to do would be to finish reading it and give the author some free publicity. And so I give you a few thoughts on Karen E. Osborne’s novel Getting It Right, published in 2017.

The first line of the novel is “Jim Smyth died young but not soon enough.” We meet three people at his funeral—Kara, Flyer, and Tuesday—who have come to find out if seeing their “childhood torturer” in a “deep, dank, and lonely hole” would make them feel safer in the world. We find out that these three have been friends “since Kara was six, Tuesday five, and Flyer four; first in the Smyths’ home in foster care, and then in a group home until Kara aged out at eighteen.” They grew up in the Bronx, and descriptions reveal that Flyer wears his hair in “dreads” and Tuesday has a “dyed-blonde Afro, buzzed close” while Kara has “honey-beige skin.” After reading the first chapter, I was unsurprised to be told that the author has experience working in social services.

Although the first chapter focuses on Kara, the second chapter switches focus to a new character, Alex, whose father is in the hospital, and who asks her to find someone. That person, of course, turns out to be her half-sister, Kara, who still treasures a photo of herself with Alex and their father, taken when they were three years old.

Kara is dating a married man named Zach who shows up late for their dates and leaves early, pausing only to ask her to deliver mysterious envelopes. Although it takes Kara half the novel to figure out that he’s using her, it takes readers about half a page. It turns out that Kara has a mother-substitute landlady and a fellow lodger, Danny, who she thinks of as a brother and who works as a cop. They enjoy cozy late-night snacks together in the kitchen, the description of which irritated me because not only does slender Kara allow herself to eat late at night, but when the food is served she “only nibbled on hers in spite of her earlier hunger.” The author is trying to make a point about Kara’s unbalanced mental state here, but my irritation over what might well be something a thin woman can actually experience took me right out of the fiction.

Another food description, later in the novel, also took me away from the story, when Alex is asked if she likes Japanese food and says yes because “she liked Chinese okay, would it taste the same? It didn’t” and then a page later “their food came and they both dug in,” followed by Alex declaring that her “rad na” is “yummy.” Is this a carelessness about food that I don’t share, or is it the result of trouble with pacing dialogue to correspond to action?

Eventually Zach’s bad treatment triggers Kara’s PTSD from her treatment at the hands of Jim, the abusive foster father, and she realizes she has to leave him because “no one—not Big Jim, not Zach, no one—was going to do this to her again.” Flyer and Tuesday are also struggling with PTSD, which provides a backdrop to Kara’s story.

Before the end, Alex takes Kara to the hospital, where she finally gets to ask their father why he didn’t come for her after her mother died and he admits that he didn’t believe her grandmother’s suspicions about her foster home. Then the shady business dealings Zach has involved her in result in Kara being taken away by the FBI and her former brother-figure Danny, the cop, rescuing her. When Kara and Alex meet again, she says to her “I read somewhere that children either make all of the mistakes of their parents, or they break the cycle,” giving us hope for their future and alluding to the title.

Getting It Right is a quick read and a mostly enjoyable novel, living up to the promise of its first chapter. While suitable for party-time reading, it would also be a good beach or airplane book.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2018 12:39 pm

    What an interesting way to come upon your next read! I’m glad it turned out to be enjoyable.

    • April 17, 2018 2:40 pm

      Well, it’s a small college and a small town. I didn’t mean to do anything except look at it, but sometimes one thing leads to another.

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