JILLIAN by Halle Butler

Jillian is a strange, dark little book about two unhappy women and their parallel unravelings. Megan is in her mid 20s and works as an admin in a gastroenterologist’s office scheduling appointments and reviewing colonoscopy films. Her co-worker, Jillian, is a single mom in her 30s with toddler. Megan is depressed and moody, and she is judgmental of everyone around her, especially people who are more pulled together than she is. Jillian, on the other hand, wears an upbeat mask to hide her inner desperation. She is in desperate financial straits, and when her car is possessed because her license is expired, she finds herself even deeper in a hole. Nevertheless, she adopts a dog – probably the worst decision she could make given the situation she’s in.

Megan’s coldness and lack of enthusiasm are beyond frustrating to Jillian, who shares everything with Megan, hoping to get some sort of affirmation. Meanwhile, Megan is fixated on Jillian and how ridiculous she is. Megan dulls her pain on the weekends with beer and weed, while Jillian fabricates a car accident, obtains prescription painkillers for her phantom back pain, and takes them to escape the reality of her life.

Not much happens in Jillian. Megan goes to parties on the weekend with her boyfriend, gets drunk, and one by one alienates their group of friends with her bitterness and criticism. While high, Jillian alienates the one person who was helping her – a friend from church who drives her son to daycare when Jillian can’t – thus cutting off her one lifeline. In the end, there is no redemption for either woman, nor does either of them gain a greater understanding of or appreciation for the other.

But Jillian is still a worthwhile read. It’s definitely mean, but it’s a funny, dark meanness that most of us can probably, sadly, relate to. Kirkus Reviews says that Jillian has “a degree of compelling, train-wreck allure” and that “[i]t offers up its characters for hatred and ridicule with such energy, obsessive detail and hopelessness that the reader can’t help but read on”. Yes, totally. You’re not going to feel great after reading Jillian, but you’ll laugh and be horrified and will want to tell your best friend all about it.

You have to be in the right mood to read Jillian. If it doesn’t sound appealing after reading this review, maybe save it for later.