About the Book:
An electrifying debut novel from the acclaimed author of The Wonder Garden, The Paper Wasp is a riveting knife-edge story of two women’s dark friendship of twisted ambition set against the backdrop of contemporary Hollywood
In small-town Michigan, Abby Graven leads a solitary life. Once a bright student on the cusp of a promising art career, she now languishes in her childhood home, trudging to and from her job as a supermarket cashier. Each day she is taunted from the magazine racks by the success of her former best friend Elise, a rising Hollywood starlet whose life in pictures Abby obsessively scrapbooks. At night Abby escapes through the films of her favorite director, Auguste Perren, a cult figure known for his creative institute the Rhizome. Inspired by Perren, Abby draws fantastical storyboards based on her often premonitory dreams, a visionary gift she keeps hidden.
When Abby encounters Elise again at their high school reunion, she is surprised and warmed that Elise still considers her not only a friend but a brilliant storyteller and true artist. Elise’s unexpected faith in Abby reignites in her a dormant hunger, and when Elise offhandedly tells Abby to look her up if she’s ever in LA, Abby soon arrives on her doorstep. There, Abby discovers that although Elise is flourishing professionally, behind her glossy magazine veneer she is lonely and disillusioned. Ever the supportive friend, Abby becomes enmeshed in Elise’s world, even as she guards her own dark secret and burning desire for greatness. As she edges closer to Elise, the Rhizome, and her own artistic ambitions, the dynamic shifts between the two friends—until Abby can see only one way to grasp the future that awaits her.
The Paper Wasp is a thrilling, unexpected journey into the psyche and imagination of a woman determined to fulfill her destiny from one of our most unique and incisive writers.
‘The Paper Wasp’ is a compelling and creepy story of obsession, fame and Hollywood. I listened to the audio book which I highly recommend, given the almost dreamlike nature of the book. The narrator really made Lauren Acampora’s brilliant writing come alive.
In rural Michigan, Abby leads a lonely life. She was once a promising and gifted artist but now works at a boring, dead-end job. There are hints of darkness in her life, and one gets the sense that Abby is barely holding onto reality. She escapes into the fantasy world of films, and is obsessed with the work of Auguste Perren, a director who also runs an institute knows as the Rhizome. Dreams and visions inspire Perren, and Abby draws similar fantastical art pieces, all in secret.
Abby is surprised to run into her childhood best friend Elise at a high school reunion. Elise is now a famous actress, pursued by the tabloids and living in LA. Elise mentions to Abby to look her up if she is ever visiting and Abby does just that. Except that Abby is no casual visitor and has basically run away from home to get to LA. She has no place to live, and no job there. Elise still feels a kinship with Abby, and hires her as her personal assistant. Abby jumps at the chance. All her fantasies are finally coming true.
“Here, I was a new person. Just as you’d left Michigan far behind, Elise, so had I.”
Outwardly, Abby seems like the perfect friend and assistant. Inwardly, she is a seething time bomb, ready to explode at any minute. Abby is resentful of Elise’s success as an actress and begins to sabotage both Elise’s personal and professional life. The obsessive nature of Abby’s feelings for Elise come through in the chilling, second person point-of-view.
“I took a last look at you. Your eyes stared up at me, my old friend, and I saw something pleading in them, imploring me. My dreams hadn’t been wrong. They were never wrong; they were truer than life. As I held your gaze, I understood that our bond had never truly been broken. You needed me as much as ever.”
The story takes a very odd turn at the end but I still was absolutely enchanted by the writing. The scenes between Abby and Elise are chilling, tense and compelling. The author has a real eye for the often superficial nature of Hollywood and the movie business in general. I was on the edge of my seat during the last half of this book. It was clear that Abby’s obsession with Elise was going to take a very dark turn.
“You smiled faintly and closed your eyes. When you opened them again, they locked on mine, bright and vapid. There was nothing in them. You hadn’t been filled, over all these years, but had been left carefully hollow. This, I imagined, was why actresses cracked so easily with age, like glass vases—why they were so swiftly and thoroughly ruined.”
The author has much to say about female friendship, rivalry and the Hollywood star system. The dream sequences translated well into the audio book which is why I highly recommend listening to this book! This is a wildly creative and different story that is easily one of my favorites of 2019.