22 February 2009

Jessica Z.

A funny thing happened to me on Goodreads: I made two new friends in two weeks who both recommended the same book to me. It was a book I had never heard of, a debut novel, and being naturally suspicious I became convinced it was part of a very well designed viral campaign designed to capture the 4.7 of you who regularly read this thing.

I am a fool. And I'm pretty sure there was no underhanded ploy at work to pick up Shawn Klomparens' JESSICA Z (albeit at the library). But I liked the book and so far as I can tell it is not getting much attention. It's a sort of mystery with modern geopolitical consequences, and a love story, and manages those boundaries in a pretty interesting way.

Jessica Z. is a San Franciscan copywriter occasionally sleeping with her upstairs neighbor and more or less satisfied with her life. She meets and falls into an intense relationship with an artist who, intentionally or not, always seems a little aloof to her. Then at the height of their affair, she loses him -- in a way that leads her to question their entire relationship.

One reason JESSICA Z. stuck with me was because of the way it handled and manipulated these multiple genres. There's a hint of a quarterlife crisis and a work conflict dominating the book, and then something happens in the first 30 pages that jars you out of what seems like a comfortable world. So that either makes that one of the most plot-dense pieces of serious fiction I've read in a while or one of the most earnest and realistic pieces of chick lit. Not all of this is sustained -- a subplot about a blogger, which naturally I loved, gets dropped, and there are some family issues that stay behind. But if you like looking and thinking about different genres and transitioning among same, this book will be right up your alley. And no one told me to say that. Promise.


Kimberly said...

Hi - I actually found your post because I googled Jessica Z and goodreads. I made two "friends" on goodreads who also enthusiastically recommended the book to me immediately after I accepted their friend request. I had no clue who these people were, they just asked me if I had read anything good lately, I would say yes/no, and they'd answer back they had just finished reading/re-reading a terrific book (Jessica Z) and I should check it out, it changed their lives!!! Or something similar. I have very few friends on goodreads and I know all of them outside of the Web..except those two who both thought Jessica Z was tha bomb.

So I totally think you are right about it being a viral marketing ploy. But I guess if it's a good book and the people they recommend it to enjoy it, then it's not a problem. Still I think it's really weird. It's kind of disingenuous, I think, to friend someone just to get them to buy/read something, not because you're actually interested in their reading habits...

Ellen said...

Kimberly -- that's really interesting that you had the same experience as I did. I can't say it was the sketchiest thing I've seen on Goodreads, that honor is reserved for random dudes who seem to "friend" every female they can find.

I'm not opposed to that kind of reader outreach, and at least in the case of one person who recommended it to me it was clear she had read it and had a lot to say about it, beyond "Hey, stranger, read this." I guess as a bookish person a word of mouth campaign for a book offends me less than one for, I don't know, a sneaker or something. But there's definitely a danger in not giving full disclosure, something I always try to do. And that's something Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari etc. will have to deal with as they grow.