Catalina by Liska Jacobs

I kind of went into this book without knowing what it was going to be about. The whole time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the title and how there’s this famous line from the comedy Step Brothers. It goes:

catalina-wine-mixer

And maybe this gif can explain exactly how I feel about this book and the events that took place. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

33257651Elsa Fisher is headed for rock bottom. At least, that’s her plan. She has just been fired from MoMA on the heels of an affair with her married boss, and she retreats to Los Angeles to blow her severance package on whatever it takes to numb the pain. Her abandoned crew of college friends (childhood friend Charlotte and her wayward husband, Jared; and Elsa’s ex-husband, Robby) receive her with open arms, and, thinking she’s on vacation, a plan to celebrate their reunion on a booze-soaked sailing trip to Catalina Island.

But Elsa doesn’t want to celebrate. She is lost, lonely, and full of rage, and only wants to sink as low as the drugs and alcohol will take her. On Catalina, her determined unraveling and recklessness expose painful memories and dark desires, putting everyone in the group at risk.

At only 240 pages, I was worried this was going to be another one of those books where a young girl comes to New York with a lot of promise and only finds drugs and sex are what help her cope with her quarter-life crisis. I’m honestly so tired of stories that have people moving to New York and becoming drug-addled without a hint of trying to do anything for the big dream. However, this is completely opposite of that.

In fact, she was doing what she set out to do. She was working for the place of her dreams before she started having an affair with her boss. She then loses her job and travels back to California. While I never had an affair with my boss, I know the kind of upset you feel when you had a job one day and then it’s all completely taken away from you. There’s a small amount of depression that sets in and for Elsa, it comes with a nice sidecar of pain killers.

I kind of put this on the same level as Bridesmaids or any of those female groups that get together after a long time. They learn that they’re different or they learn that they’ve grown apart. I can imagine someone like Amy Schumer or Kristin Wiig playing Elsa if they adapted this to a movie. I can imagine her fiddling with pill bottles in the bottom of her purse wearing her best sequined dress and giant black sunglasses. I can see her waking up next to a random stranger hoping that they didn’t take it too far. I can see her even modeling bathing suits to the underage bellhop in the hotel she’s staying in. Like all those female friendship movies, there’s always someone that doesn’t care enough or only cares about themselves. I think that’s the perfect analogy to explain Elsa.

However, unlike those movies, Elsa doesn’t really learn anything other than the fact that she’s not her friends. She doesn’t want the same things in life and she doesn’t care about getting back to reality. She’s also deeply depressed. While you’re reading the story, Elsa goes back and rehashes on the events leading up to her affair, her job in New York. She talks about the relationship she has with her friends, with her ex-husband, and even her mom. I think it’s interesting how “rock bottom” can feel like the catalyst for change and sometimes it can feel like a good time to break open a bottle of booze. For Elsa, it’s the latter.

Even as she finds her best friend no longer cares about her and she has no one to looked to, she finds a way to be self-destructive. She doesn’t speak to anyone about what happened to her in New York and she doesn’t look for help. All she wants is to do is find those drugs to help her fall darker into her own pit.

To me, this didn’t read like a depressing story of a young woman on the verge of a breakdown. In actuality, all the characters in this story have something going on in their lives they’re not talking about. Since the story takes place in Elsa’s point of view, that’s all that you’re getting. However, the characters are super well-developed and you care more about them than you do about Elsa.

Speaking of writing, I thought this was eloquent and easy. The characters felt natural and almost real. I think the only thing I could comment on was how unfeeling and cold Elsa was. I guess that’s what the author was trying to do here. She was trying to make you feel for everyone and feel a little bit for Elsa, but in the end, you won’t really care for her very much. It’s obvious even with the way Liska Jacobs ended the book. She didn’t care for her friends and she clearly doesn’t care about herself, so why would the reader want to care about her too?

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

  • E-galley: 240 pages
  • Publisher: FSG Original
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy Catalina on Amazon

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