Girlfriend on Mars

Norton. Jun. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9780393285918. $28. F
DEBUT In Willis’s first novel, Kevin Watkins is in love with his girlfriend Amber Kivinen, whom he’s been with since high school. He believes she feels the same contentedness that he does, but their relationship starts to stagnate, and Amber begins to stray emotionally and physically. Her discontent leads her to secretly apply to be on a new reality TV show called MarsNow. Readers are launched into the fabricated world of reality TV in chapters narrated by Amber, while chapters narrated by Kevin reveal his rapidly constricting world, as he has decided not to leave the house unless Amber gets kicked off the show. The alternating chapters slowly reveal the backgrounds and motivations of both Kevin and Amber (Willis doesn’t shy away from showing their uglier sides but keeps them sympathetic); meanwhile the narrative perfectly skewers reality TV shows.
VERDICT A fresh take on the break-up narrative, mixed with the existential angst of today’s world. Willis (author of two short story collections, including The Dark and Other Love Stories) explores many subthemes that will ring true, particularly for millennial readers.
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