The tag line is: "How far would you go to get what you always wanted?" and Kate Sandford, protagonist of Catherine McKenzie's first novel, Spin, goes so far she makes you cringe.
Kate, desperate for a job as a music reporter, is told that if she checks into an exclusive rehab facility, fakes an alcohol addiction, spies on the crack-addled, damaged movie star Amber Sheppard and writes an exposé on her for a celebrity magazine, she'll be hired to write for The Line.
The twist, however, is that Kate befriends the movie star, and, believe it or not, discovers that faking alcoholism is, in fact, easy if you actually are an alcoholic. In the long run, even though Kate rubs everyone the wrong way and throws trust and friendship and love out the window, she ends up benefiting from the experience - she helps herself.
Kate is 30 years old but pretends she is still in university in order to go to the free wine-and-cheese parties on campus. She drinks every night, usually blacking out at some point in the evening. She lives with a grumpy, do-no-wrong roommate, Joanne, whose only saving grace is that she has a wine collection Kate secretly pilfers. Kate writes bit pieces here and there for music magazines, but all she's ever wanted to do is write for The Line.
After a disastrous, still-drunk interview (including an up-chucking session in the office washroom: "I throw up again, and this time what comes out doesn't resemble anything I've ever had to eat or drink and leaves a rancid, metallic taste in my mouth"), Kate becomes determined to fix her life. She tries. A little bit.
Spin is a compelling, fast-paced read
But when a month later The Line editors give her a call and tell her that if she writes just one article for their sister magazine, Gossip Central, they'll give her the job she wants, Kate will do anything they ask - even if it means checking herself into rehab in order to get the scoop on Amber.
Disaster follows. How can you play at having an alcohol addiction when you really are an alcoholic? Kate falls in love (Duh! Doesn't that always happen in rehab?) and she becomes BFF with Amber (to the point of supreme, back-to-the-bottle guilt when she has to finally expose the movie star) and, well, her whole life spins out of control (wait a minute - that's the title, right?).
There are bits of A Million Little Pieces in this novel - an in-depth view of what $1,000 a day rehab is like, the whole Step Program of AA ("Day Five: The First Step to Sobriety"; "Day Twenty-seven: Advanced Coping Mechanisms"), group therapy and individual therapy, a lot of soul-searching.
But where A Million Little Pieces (yes, I know that wasn't an entirely true story, but that doesn't matter here) was tortured and powerful, Spin is more about entertainment and fun. Kate is full of pop-culture allusions, some really funny ones. She knows a lot about what is going on around her: movies, music, celebrity gossip, television shows, and she plays on all of this throughout the novel giving it a nice, layered, present feel.
There are some really witty moments - when Kate steals a book from someone at the airport and when she realizes it is Hamlet, she thinks, "Well, maybe it's one of those modern retellings, like The Other Boleyn Girl. I check the author. Nope. William freaking Shakespeare. Just great. It feels thick too, like the movie Kenneth Branagh made."
Spin is a compelling, fast-paced read. It took mere hours to plow through. And that was nice for a rainy mid-January weekend.
Michelle Berry won the Enfield & Wizenty fiction prize for her novel This Book Will Not Save Your Life, to be published this fall. Her new collection of stories, I Still Don't Even Know You, will be published in April.