Reviewed by Jean Arboleda
MARILOU IS EVERYWHERE
By Sarah Elaine Smith
288 pages. Riverhead Books.
These days, I find myself thinking a lot about the shape loneliness takes. Sometimes it arrives to fill a hole that someone once occupied. Sometimes it descends upon the rest of the world like a fog. Sometimes, as in the case of Cindy Stoat, it is “a blank and merciless light.”
Marilou Is Everywhere is a vaguely disquieting read. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s a painfully intimate novel about wanting so badly to be anyone, absolutely anyone, but yourself. “I had only ever been myself, and found it lacking,” Cindy explains. She is fourteen years old—a horrible age to be in any situation, but made excruciatingly worse by an absentee mother, who leaves her and her two older brothers in poverty in rural Pennsylvania. The summer they turn feral, local girl Jude Vanderjohn disappears, sending their tiny community into a frenzy.
Jude is the exact opposite of Cindy—self-assured, confident, ambitious. Jude had once dated Virgil, Cindy’s eldest brother—as a private joke, they would call each other Marilou and Cletus and talk like old-fashioned gentry, building a world of their own.
This isn’t a novel about a missing girl—or maybe it is, but not about the girl you might think. Jude’s disappearance sets the story in motion, but this is Cindy’s story to tell. In Cindy’s eyes, Jude was able to truly exist in the world—the aforementioned Marilou, affecting people even in her absence. In stark contrast, here was Cindy, shy, invisible, untethered to the world by family or friends or anything real.
“I stood in the place where Jude was supposed to be. And this, I thought, was a kindness.”
Cindy slowly starts to slip into Jude’s life, deceiving Jude’s eccentric mother Bernadette. Bernadette has her own deceits—an absentee mother in her own way, forgetful and muddled and desperate to hide her dependence on alcohol. But even with her tenuous grip on reality, she is the closest thing that Cindy has to maternal love—and in the depths of her hunger and loneliness and sadness, Cindy takes it.
“I had felt not entirely real my whole life. By the transitive property, maybe I had found my real mother.”
Even as Cindy buries herself deeper and deeper into a lie, author Sarah Elaine Smith remains compassionate, writing with powerful, lyrical prose about the sheer desperation that would drive someone to such an extreme. Marilou Is Everywhere is about the quiet misfortunes of the Stoats and the Vanderjohns and the Satterwhites of the world. It’s about life’s inherent melancholia, and how it takes a fierce love to be able to fight through it, and simply survive.
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Jean will try anything once. She has, at different points in her life, worked in government, interviewed international celebrities, and been the social media manager for several brands. On any given day, she would rather be reading, preferably surrounded by puppies. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @jeanarboleda.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]