HarperAudio. May 2023. 8:39 hrs. ISBN 9780063250864. $27.99. F
Kuang’s (Babel) gripping new novel follows June, a struggling white writer who watches helplessly as her Chinese American friend Athena achieves literary stardom. When Athena dies in a bizarre accident, June steals Athena’s final manuscript and publishes it as her own. Narrator Helen Laser masterfully takes thief, liar, and plagiarizer June from despicable to almost sympathetic. Laser’s narration, which is deeply in tune with Kuang’s writing, immerses listeners in June’s downward spiral, from a delusional woman clinging to plausible deniability to an outrageous literary monster. Laser makes it easy to be seduced by June’s inner narrative, where envy and greed are transformed into altruism. Collaborating with an unethical editor and marketing team inflates June’s ego beyond redemption, an arc that Laser readily captures as she allows June’s voice to become more smug, snappish, and entitled. All traces of doubt are replaced by a self-righteous anger that pushes June to attack any critic and leaves her vulnerable to Athena’s ghost.
VERDICT A deeply compelling satire, with sharp insight into the horrifying notion that authentic voices can be replaced by privileged ones that publishers assume are more marketable. June’s rise and fall in an amoral industry is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
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