Review: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks
Source: Digital galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley. Thank you!
Publication: September 8, 2015 by St. Martin’s Press
Verdict: Very Good
Caroline Jacobs is a wimp, someone who specializes in the suffering of tiny indignities in silence. And the big ones, too. But when the twinset wearing president of the local Parent Teacher Organization steps out of line one too many times, Caroline musters the courage to assert herself. With a four-letter word, no less.
Caroline’s outburst has awakened something in her. Not just gumption, but a realization that the roots of her tirade can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, when her best friend very publicly betrayed her. So, with a little bit of bravery, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She busts her daughter out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback . . . some twenty-five years later. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets rise to the surface, and Caroline finds she has to face much more than one old, bad best friend.
The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is a slow-burn kind of novel. One that begins with a dash of the unexpected but that really grows into its own brand of unconventionality and humour, until you’re on a trip you didn’t know you really wanted to be on.
Caroline Jacobs is presented as a quiet, unassuming, meek individual. Having all-too typical difficulties connecting with her seemingly brazen and defiant teenage daughter, and afraid to make a break for the career she wants, Caroline is just there. She’s stuck somewhere in the middle of nothing. Unfortunately, when Caroline becomes somewhat unstuck she does it out loud, publicly, at a parent teacher meeting.
Tying the root of all of her troubles, frustrations and lack of personal mojo to the moment her best childhood friend stabbed her in the back, Caroline decides she must face her former friend: to finally have her moment to make the perfect comeback. To win. To do something to come out on top. But as can be expected, nothing quite goes the way Caroline expects: not with her former friend, not with her daughter, and not with her mom or husband.
Not just a story about going home again, or reconnecting with past friends/enemies, Dicks has written a deeper and more complex exploration here about facing decisions, tragedies and letting go of what-ifs. There are moments in the novel of surprise, sadness and strange celebrations- all very competently wrapped up in an interesting narrative trajectory. Additionally, I really appreciate how Dicks writes and explores the mother-daughter relationship between Caroline and Polly- such great dialogue and rhythm in their seesawing relationship.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs! In a style that reminds me of Elinor Lipman and Maria Semple, Matthew Dicks has written a funny and offbeat contemporary story. What starts out as a deceptively straightforward story of one woman’s aim to right a childhood wrong, slowly turns into a bolder, nuanced and affecting story. I look forward to reading more from Matthew Dicks!
I received this book as a digital galley from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.