Book Review: Marlena by Julie Buntin
Cat is happily married and living in New York, but still struggles with alcoholism and the memories of the year when, as a teenager, she had a deep and doomed friendship with Marlena.
Marlena is a Siren.
Just as in the mythical stories, her Siren song is impossible to resist, pulling those in her orbit into choppy waters. In a twist, though, the one she lures to ultimate destruction is herself.
The book follows Cat while she stumbles through adulthood; an adulthood that exists in the shadow of her all-consuming teen friendship with Marlena.
Cat and Marlena had the kind of friendship that burns brightly, almost obsessively. Every word said to one another is Very Important. Every real or imagined slight is devastating.
Cat comes to need Marlena for sustenance like food, and vice-versa although neither of them would admit it.
The power dynamics are clearly in Marlena’s favor. She the type of friend who must be at the center of everything. Sheâ€™s the smartest, sexiest, most popular…no one else is allowed to shine.
We see her boyfriend give up on college because it doesnâ€™t fit in with Marlenaâ€™s life plan. Cat is obviously smarter than Marlena, but Marlena still offers to help Cat with her homework. No one can succeed in her presence because it would be a direct threat to Marlenaâ€™s unquestionable superiority.
Iâ€™m not giving anything away to mention Marlenaâ€™s death. Itâ€™s established pretty early in the book. Even seeing her lifestyle, itâ€™s not surprising.
Had she lived, the obsessive friendship would have self-destructed. Cat and Marlena would have grown up and grown apart, either quietly, or, more likely, in a weepy, heart-breaking confrontation.
This book shows the destructive side of friendship. Cat was so obsessed with Marlena that, even in her absence, she canâ€™t get past it. She remembers the time with a mix of nostalgia and relief to be out from under it (although…is she really out from under it?)
I only deduct two stars because the book meanders a bit. For some readers, this winding trip is well worth it. For me, it could have hit harder with about 100 pages fewer.