I saw Rebecca Scherm read at the Sackett Street Reading Series at BookCourt and promptly picked up her first novel, Unbecoming. It’s an absorbing read that, although it is literally about antique and jewelry heists, I was surprised to read described as a book about antique and jewelry heists. It is a book about Grace, the protagonist–the rest of it is just the plot.

unbecoming

The readers gets to know Grace in a close, intimate and uncomfortable way over the course of the fairly long novel, from her childhood–when she begins to suspect that she’s a “bad apple”–through her teenagerhood, spent almost entirely in the family home of her boyfriend, a boy named Riley whose family she worships, into her brief stint in New York as a college student, through the downward spiral that comes next. Structurally, the book is interesting in that this all doesn’t happen in a linear fashion, until the end when the narration becomes fairly straightforward. Before that, chunks of the book happen in the far past, in the more recent past, and in the present. This structure both diminishes suspense early on and builds it later. 

As well as the reader does get to know Grace, because she is such an adept liar, it is surprising at times what settles into being the truth. I think there were a few occasions where a revelation was meant to be a true revelation, but seemed like a forgone conclusion to me, and a few times in which the opposite happened, where I was unconvinced that Grace really felt the way it turned out she really did. I know this is vague, but I don’t want to give anything away.

There were also a few instances in which I felt that perhaps Scherm had an overzealous editor who thought that her readers might be more confused than there was reason to be confused–she repeats a lot of information in a way that made me suspect some external forces could have been at work.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It had page-turner elements to it, while still being an overwhelmingly literary, character-driven work. I’m excited to read what she writes next.

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