Thursday, February 3, 2011

HATING OLIVIA by Mark SaFranko

Hating Olivia by Mark SaFranko
Literary Fiction
Harper Perennial, 2010
ISBN 978-0-06-197919-4

*I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher for the purpose of writing an online review

From the back of the book:

Max Zajack's life is cheap rooms, dead-end jobs, and suicidal fantasies until he meets the alluring and mysterious Olivia Aphrodite, and everything goes to hell.

Max is a struggling musician and wannabe writer. His life is in a rut until one night, while playing a gig at a local club, he gazes out into the crowd and sees Olivia. Before long, they are sharing a bed and host of dark vices that begin to consume them. Their love turns toxic, sending them spiraling downward toward the inevitable. Violently romantic, viscerally honest, Hating Olivia is the story of two loners whose obsessive love brings them to the edge of destruction.

Even after reading the summary above and a handful of reviews on GoodReads, I still wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book. Within a few pages, I was hooked. The writing style and narrative voice in this story kept me turning pages without regard for the little number in the upper corner. Before I knew it, I'd blown through nearly half of the book in a single sitting, breaking only because the fam needed dinner. Those of you who have been following my reviews for a while know that I'm generally a slow reader. You probably also noticed that I don't usually read literary fiction. So for me to finish this book inside of two days is like watching Porky Pig win the hundred-yard dash.

A bit unreal. But I assure you, it happened.

This story is not for those who are sensitive to the intricacies of toxic relationships. It is raw and powerful, and intelligently presented. You start out thinking that Max is the hopeless case, but the more you see of Livy, the more you see what a whackjob she is. It's clear from the beginning that their relationship is far from healthy, driven only by sexual desire, and it is prime real estate for the wedge of financial hardship, yet you still have this niggling thought in the back of your head that maybe... maybe it'll get better and they'll be okay. Happy, even. For years, they ride a rollercoaster of volatile emotion together, and by the end of the book you're just hoping they get off the train alive and in one piece.

The core conflict is highly relatable. Max has dreams he's reaching for that keep getting pulled from his grasp by the realities of everyday life. You can justify his hatred for Livy and at the same time understand why he can't let her go. If you can stomach the darkness of their relationship, this book is definitely worth reading. It is one of those stories that sticks with you long after finishing the final page-- a masterfully woven web of awesome. 5 of 5 stars.

~Lydia

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