Elizabeth Standish offers a look at a young woman trying to figure out her future in her new adult novel, Magnificent Mess.
Emma, a recent college graduate, doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. Despite having no desire to study or practice law, she enters the University of Denver Law School because her overbearing mother wants her to join the local family firm. Emma keeps up with her studies, although she neither excels nor finds the work compelling.
When a friend sets her up with Patrick, an AmeriCorps worker at a nearby animal preserve, a romance blossoms that soon gives way to a rocky relationship. She escapes the pressures she feels from her mother and unresolved feelings toward Patrick by spending a summer abroad in Ireland and then attending Harvard Law as a visiting third-year student. These experiences widen her horizons while she wrestles with personal and professional choices.
Emma’s earnest search for fulfillment and struggles make her a sympathetic protagonist whose concerns echo those of many her age. Standish creates credible characters in a generally well-paced narrative and ably describes Emma’s turmoil as well as the hardships of law student life.
The protagonist’s constant introspection and crying jags, however, eventually wear thin, as even she wonders, “What would be so bad about looking forward, instead of looking backward?” (Emma’s near constant state of emotional catharsis jives with Standish’s acknowledgement that the book evolved from a personal growth class exercise.) By trimming portions of Emma’s inner thoughts, making her apparently seamless transition to Harvard Law more realistic, and toning down the overly tidy and buoyant conclusion (“This life, it was oh so sweet”), Standish could develop a more intriguing story.
Nonetheless, this coming-of-age tale, complete with romantic, professional, and familial challenges, will resonate with many new adults.
Also available as an ebook.