Sarah Selecky’s fizzy novel about what it’s like to be a woman now is the kind of book you read in one big gulp — and then share with five friends
If you pack this book in your tote for a long weekend spent by a lake, don’t be surprised to find you’re completely ignoring your friends. The story of Lilian Quick’s enlightenment amidst the world of personal development in Manhattan demands you keep reading ’til it’s done.
A likeable but frustrating main character, Lilian is a pet portraitist and seer of animal auras. She struggles to make rent in Toronto, but just as things are looking up thanks to celebrity endorsement by the fictional queen of Canadian lit, Nana Boondahl, Lilian finds herself with a job offer to in New York.
Disclaimer: I make no attempt at objectivity. Author Sarah Selecky is my writing mentor and heart friend. We get each other! I admit I love her book partly because it’s her book.👏🏼
Lilian drops everything, including a good friend, to go to New York to work for her cousin, a personal development icon known as Eleven Novak. Lilian hasn’t seen this woman, whom she knew as Florence, for 20 years.
Eleven sparkles like a shiny thing, and Lilian can’t resist the temptation to bathe in the light. Her earnest journey to find spiritual meaning at the nexus of feminism, consumerism and the digital economy is both deliciously satisfying and profoundly uncomfortable. It brings to mind the pleasure and pain of picking at a scab ’til it bleeds.
There is so much visual candy here I can see why Radiant Shimmering Light, which came out in April, has already been optioned for TV.
For example, here’s a brief but bright description of Eleven’s inner circle when they step on stage at a major event: “They are all dressed up: they wear pencil skirts, sleek sheath dresses, and heels, and each of their outfits feature Eleven’s colour palette: white, green, and gold.”
Can’t you just see them? Don’t you just want to see them, gathering around their goddess?
The language used among the women in this book resonates. Did Sarah eavesdrop at my women’s co-working space to write her dialogue? For example, here’s a key exchange between Lilian and Eleven:
“You want me to work for you?“
“When I saw your paintings, my whole body responded,” Eleven says. “I had a physiological reaction. I meditated on it all afternoon. I kept seeing you in my mind. Was I responding because of our history? Or was it because of our future?”
Cringey, yes, but the silliness of this world rings true. Women actually talk like that in my world. And truth be told, I talk like that myself, even though I know it’s cringe-worthy. The fact is, I’m trying to find words for things that don’t make sense, and sometimes I take up the language of the women who surround me. If it doesn’t quite seem rational … well, good on us for resisting the patriarchy!
Selecky’s characters also express themselves through digital ephemera such as newsletters, blog posts, texts, and emails.
The resulting narrative replicates today’s multi-media, omnichannel relationships, complete with typos and spell-corrected, mixed up convos. We recognize how each channel creates another layer of communication, and it feels totally real when sometimes the various layers create inconsistencies and gaps in certain characters.
The book also manages to capture the buzz and the thrill of modern digital life. How’s this for a transformational moment in Lilian’s life: “@BreneBrown just mentioned you in a Tweet”?
Satiric and incisive
Radiant Shimmering Light is the perfect length, the perfect pace, and a little bit over-too-soon, like a single scoop of gelato on a hot afternoon. And that’s precisely what makes it the perfect summer read.
But that doesn’t mean it’s without weight and substance. In fact, this book is an insightful picture of the paradox that is womanhood today: Mindful, aligned, exfoliated, moving across photogenic backdrops, while carrying unspoken trauma and existential loneliness in a designer handbag.
Just as Lilian has a history of selling questionable products related to multi-level marketing schemes, so does Selecky’s audience live in a world that asks insane things of them in the name of hard-scrabbling economic survival.
Book club winner
I’ve been recommending Radiant Shimmering Light to friends who are looking for book club reads.
My advice? Clear your weekend and pair with prosecco.
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