The first chapter of Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe feels like it'll turn into the kind of cliché story where people take chances, make mistakes, and fulfill their dreams. This debut novel from Jenny Hollowell surprises readers with an honest view of what sometimes happens when we follow our dreams. Birdie Baker, stifled by a life in which she unhappily satisfies the wishes of her evangelical parents and her husband, a pastor, in a small town in Virginia, leaves home suddenly at 22 and moves to Los Angeles to, of course, act.
What follows is a grim look at her attempt to rise to the top. Scenes of the steps one would assume to be exciting in Birdie’s journey, like her first few weeks away from the small-town life she wanted so desperately to leave, are overshadowed by imagery like, “…it was in those chaotic, squalid days – with the masses of hair clogging the shower drains, the murky water rising and churning around her ankles, interview after interview for the lowliest of waitressing jobs and upon finding one spending twelve hours on her feet only to return to the hostel, the mold swirling along the walls like powdery gray galaxies…”.
Birdie acts like a brat through much of this novel, being difficult to please, pretentious, and unnecessarily cruel. For her, success as an actress is the only thing that matters. Birdie eventually finds a manager, a man who desires her but keeps their relationship merely flirtatious, and an apartment of her own.
After years of failure in the business and the recent discovery that the husband she left has died, Birdie meets Lewis. Sweet, beautiful Lewis opens with, “I died once. For seventeen seconds.” His exposed, abrupt, and child-like mannerism draws Birdie to him, as her window to being a hot, young, top actress is Hollywood is swiftly closing. Birdie feeds on his youthful adoration of her stint in a commercial and allows him into her life. This open adoration is also what sharpens her guilt in sleeping with a younger man.
Birdie’s biggest job so far has been standing in as the backside of Melena Duvall, the newest Hollywood star whose story (“redneck-with-a-dream”) mirrors her own. This job soon opens up a much bigger opportunity, one that could finally propel Birdie into fame. She’s finally getting everything that 22-year-old Birdie worked so hard to have. Things might finally be looking up.
Birdie’s incessant sarcastic comments and refusal to appreciate anything in her life lasts through almost the entire book, and while one wants to continue to empathize, her attitude becomes annoying about halfway through. However, the book is well-written with enough wit and veracity to keep readers interested in Birdie’s story. In this book is a haven for anyone struggling to find their footing in a world that doesn’t seem to want them to succeed.
“…over the course of your life you are actually hundreds of different people. You are a different person at the coffee shop than you are at the bar, and a different person for your dry cleaner than you are for your boyfriend, and a different person at work than you are on vacation. You are nobody in particular. But once somebody finds you and loves you, you have to keep being the person that they love. You want their love. You need to keep getting it, even if it means pretending. And so if they find you reading the newspaper in a coffee shop on a Sunday morning then that is who you must be forever.”