I was reading Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” for English class around the same time I read “The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs.” As a result, I tried to find similarities between the two books, which wasn’t as easy as I had hoped it would be. But one early Saturday morning (aka 2 a.m. after catching up on TV), I realized that both novels draw heavily on the unrealistic to say something about the realistic. In “As I Lay Dying,” Faulkner uses the burial of Addie Bundren to paint a complicated portrait of a family from the South. In “The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs,” Matthew Dicks uses the unbelievably immature Caroline Jacobs to explore the ineffable relationships between mothers and daughters, as well as the ways in which our childhood experiences resonate through our lives.
Caroline Jacobs is a wimp and a weakling, but when she musters the courage to assert herself with “a four-letter word” to the condescending, pretentious head of the Parent Teacher Organization, something in her awakens. That something leads Caroline to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She forces her daughter to accompany her to deliver the perfect comeback, albeit 25 years later. But of course nothing goes as planned, so Caroline finds herself facing not only her old best friend but also the long buried secrets that she tried to suppress.
How would I describe “The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs” in one word? Unhinged. From the absolutely ridiculous but absolutely remarkable opening (gotta love them parents and teachers) to the even more ending, I was caught between hating and loving the unrealistic plot. While it allows for moments of reflection, it is more often caught in its own absurdities. Too often does Caroline Jacobs come off as someone to be satirized rather than the product of a satire. In trying to make the plot more ridiculous as the story progresses, the author loses the earnestness that made the opening so poignant, smart and marvelous. (And let’s be real here: when Caroline’s daughter is remarkably more mature than Caroline herself, you know there’s something wrong.)
“The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs” is definitely one of the more engaging novels I’ve read this year. I loved the prose and at times even the deceptively simple plot. While at times too far-fetched and zany for its own good, “The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs” has an effervescence and vitality that makes it unlike any other novel.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (September 8th, 2015)
Length: 216 pages (Hardcover)
ISBN #: 9781250006301