In real life, sensible people are desperate to stay out of the morass of melodrama that is the lives of others. However, in the world of fiction there is a kind of hunger for it, a voyeuristic pleasure in it. It’s what brings us back again and again to watch reality tv, the urge to watch the trainwreck.
Right out of the gate, Irene Woodbury’s Pop-Out Girl sets up some high stakes while pushing readers, almost daring them, to go along for the ride. It’s important for readers to understand that this novel opens with kidnapping, sexual assault, and domestic violence. If readers can make their way through along with the heroine Jen, then they will soon find themselves in a harrowing and overwhelming adrenaline fueled story.
Over the span of the first thirty pages, Jen, one of the most successful women at Stripper Gram in Las Vegas, is stolen away by her abusive ex-con boyfriend, forcibly married, drugged, sexually assaulted, successfully gets away, then is a victim of a drive-by shooting where her current boyfriend’s boss is shot. This last bit of trauma is the springboard for Jen’s mother Brandi, a career cocktail waitress, to reveal the shot boss is in fact Jen’s biological father. Nearly every page of Woodbury’s novel seems to pile on life altering event after life altering event.
This trait is perhaps the greatest strength and weakness of the novel by which I mean that readers will most certainly be divided down the middle on its effectiveness. However, no one will be able to argue that Woodbury isn’t tapping into a hardscrabble lifestyle that is rarely portrayed but very prevalent. The lives of many people living on the periphery of entertainment cities like Las Vegas. In crafting not just the life of Jen but her mother Brandi, Woodbury is able to set up a clear lineage of bad decision making.
So after all the madness Jen endures, she must negotiate the emotional roller coaster of her mother lying to her via omission for more than twenty years and how or whether to build a relationship with her new father. Suddenly, Woodbury has given us a family drama. It’s here that her novel really takes off becoming something more than just a glimpse of melodrama. Woodbury gives us not just the emotional struggle of Jen but of Brandi and the men of the story (new father and coma ridden Matt, the non-psycho boyfriend Colton).
By the end of Pop-Out Girl, we don’t so much get a happily ever after but the hope of a future that’s more stable and loving.
Pop-Out Girl is Irene Woodbury’s third novel. Irene grew up in Pittsburgh, and has lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Denver. The University of Houston 1993 graduate also called Texas home for seven years. Her writing career began In 2000. After five years as a successful travel writer, she switched to fiction. Irene’s first novel, the humorous A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis, was published in 2011. The darkly dramatic A Dead End In Vegas followed in 2014.
♦◊◊◊◊–1 Star: Poorly conceived and written, not worth anyone’s time
♦♦◊◊◊–2 Stars: Limited audience, mediocre writing
♦♦♦◊◊–3 Stars: Solid writing, decent ideas and execution, genre appropriate
♦♦♦♦◊–4 Stars: Good writing, engaging ideas and execution
♦♦♦♦♦–5 Stars: Superb writing, excellent ideas and execution, appealing to all audiences