So many people recommended Real Easy by Marie Rutkoski to me last year when seeking recommendations from friends as part of a year-long reading challenge that I purposely kept it for last, thinking it would be the best recommendation of the year. Perhaps it was the format in which I “read” the novel, choosing to listen to it via audiobook, but I was not impressed by the story. After reading or listening to eleven other books selected by friends, this neither surprises me nor upsets me, as I have found that this exercise in broadening my reading choices did nothing but confirm what I like and why I stick to what I like.
For one thing, Ms. Rutkoski tells her story from the point of view of pretty much every character. That may sound like hyperbole, but trust me when I assure you it is not. Each chapter has a different narrator, and only two or three narrators tell more than one chapter. In the interview after the audiobook, the author speaks to this as intentional and that each new point of view is essential to the overarching story in some way. I am not sure she was entirely successful there because there are at least two or three narrators I can think of who added nothing to the story.
She finally settles down with the narrator shifting towards the story’s climax, but by that time, I was continuing the story to solve the mystery. I cared nothing for any of the characters, including the two victims, which is another issue I have with her use of multiple narrators. Real Easy is not a novel that needs strong character development but requires an empathic relationship with critical characters. Because of the constantly shifting POV, I didn’t get the chance to develop a relationship with anyone. Thus, I had no interest when one of the girls was in danger or when the main detective rushed to the scene before it was too late. I remained a remote observer with no vested interest in anything.
Another issue I had with Real Easy was the dialogue. Perhaps this comes across better in print, but there are entire chapters where the discussion consists of brief sentences followed by “she said.” When there are five or more people in a scene speaking at once, that is a lot of “she said.” One chapter, in particular, used that phrase for every sentence; I stopped counting after this happened twenty times in a row. Dialogue in audiobooks is always tricky because what works on paper may not work orally. In this case, however, it was so distracting that I feared every time there was another scene involving a group of people. In a book that occurs in part in a strip club, and the girls all get ready in the locker room together, this happens more often than not.
As for the mystery itself, I feel it is a lackluster one. I can tell Ms. Rutkoski chose certain narrators to throw readers off the scent of the real murderer. Much like her dialogue, this writing choice felt clunky and obvious. These weren’t small little suggestions slyly hinted at but rather huge, lumbering red herrings that announced themselves by screaming at you for attention. They were so apparent that they did nothing but unfavorably extend the story, making it longer than needed.
I could forgive all of this if the murderer were someone completely unexpected. Instead, the murderer is someone anyone who has ever watched an episode of Date Line would easily guess. Ms. Rutkoski does not help herself with her attempted feints since no reader will fall for them.
It all comes down to the fact that Real Easy lacks elegance, which is the cause of most of the issues I had with it. I say elegance because a successful murder mystery is elegant; the author glides the reader from clue to false clue so effortlessly and with such little fanfare that they don’t even know they are seeing the clues, let alone false ones. Everything about Real Easy, from the dialogue to the multiple narrators to the unsurprising murderer, is as inelegant and crude as when you see someone in stage make-up up close after seeing them perform.