George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl. Touchstone, 2017. 9781501162893. 288 pp.
Gene: This is George and Lizzy by Nancy Pearl.
Sarah: Who we’ve both met and both like.
G: Who I would say is a buddy of mine.
S: I own her action figure and the T-shirt that you made of her.
G: She’s awesome. I ran into her husband at my local library in September — they live close to me — when Nancy was on her book launch tour. He teaches a meditation class I need to take.
S: I feel like the few things I know about her I noticed reflected in the book, and there are probably going to be more, and the meditation class is one of them.
G: Oh my god, I didn’t think about that. So, give me your pitch for this.
S: Lizzie, when she was in high school, well her friend came up with this idea that she thought was great…her friend dropped out because this idea was insane but Lizzie did it anyway.
G: What was the idea?
S: To sleep with every member of the high school football team. Well, not every member, but the starters. And they were going to divide the starters between them, which was 11 boys each, and then they’d flip for the last one…
G: The kicker.
S: …but because her friend dropped out Lizzie decided she would do all the starters. And it’s never totally clear why she does this except she’s super pissed off at her parents and maybe kind of hopes this will shock them into caring about her.
G: You think that’s what was going on?
S: For a while I think she thought that’s what it was, and then she wasn’t sure…
G: Lizzie’s parents are renowned behaviorists, they’re academic psychologists.
S: And they experiment on her throughout her life.
G: And they’re incredibly cold.
S: So cold. They smoke constantly and they don’t cook and they don’t fix their house and she’s living almost like a feral child except for her babysitter Sheila who is the most wonderful person, who sort of saves great chunks of Lizzie’s childhood.
G: I identified with this except…Oh, what was the thing?…Oh, my parents weren’t academics.
S: (both laughing) Oh! Wohnt wohnnn.
G: Sorry. That should have had a better delivery.
S: The sex with the football players, she doesn’t enjoy it. That is the skeleton of the book, her going through each player, and then sometimes she follows up with where they ended up later in life — dead, commentating on ESPN, working as philosophers and professors.
G: I never knew that Nancy liked football.
S: Huge fan.
G: I found out during a great interview of Nancy by Marcie Sillman, one KUOW’s hosts who Nancy talks to about books, when they talked about this one.
S: It sounds like a dirty joke, like a high school legend, and making it the basis for this very literary and fairly serious book feels so odd.
G: You think the book is serious?
S: I do. I think it’s about how you deal with the pain in your life. How do you move on from your past? How do you enjoy what you have now?
G: You have to give the rest of the pitch for the book.
S: So Lizzie goes to college and at the end of her first year she has a torrid romance with a guy in her poetry class, Jack, and at the end of that term he gets a copy of Psychology Today that just happens to have an article by her parents about how college students feel about sexual activity, including, for example, a girl who would have sex with the entire football team.
G: Because (minor spoiler) her parents had found out about what she’d done. And Jack finds out about it, too. She called it The Great Game.
S: Because that’s what it is to her, a game. And Lizzie is horrified at her parents’ betrayal. And she ends up telling Jack about it. He’s saying he’s okay with it but seems vaguely not okay with it. And then he goes home for the summer to somewhere in Texas, she doesn’t know where because they haven’t been dating that long, and he doesn’t come back.
Every day she goes to check the mail like her life depends on that moment. She can’t sleep, she’s drinking too much, she smokes a lot of weed, and then she goes bowling with her roommate and meets a guy, George, by accident. George of the title. She screws up his shot, then they go out like six months later.
G: He’s from Oklahoma, he’s a dental student, and he’s nothing at all like Lizzie.
S: He has a wonderful family life, he had a great time in college and high school, he has no idea what her life is like and she doesn’t change that.
G: There were sentences that just pulled me into the book and made me laugh. It sounds so dark! But I was giggling throughout at the descriptions of her family and Marla and James (her roommates). That pulled me through for a while. And then when she starts dating George she’s always thinking about Jack.
S: She’s always looking him up in phone books!
G: But then she goes home with George for Christmas to Oklahoma. His mom is one of those ladies who decorates everything, despite being Jewish. Cooks all day. And she has the nastiest mother-in-law, George’s grandma.
S: Oh my god!
G: But that family interaction, at that point I sank in and could not put it down. And it’s not that far into it, it’s not a long book. But I said to myself: this book has me now.
S: It was this weird thing for Lizzie. George’s mom is so much what she needs. She’s never had that kind of affection, never had that kind of kindness in her life ever, and it makes a huge difference.
G: And then the only thing I think you can say about the book is that as her life with George progresses, she keeps pining for Jack in ways that made me really uncomfortable. With George she never has that excitement. She’s not quite sinking into the everydayness of a good relationship, and he’s pretty oblivious to what’s going on inside her. But if she marries him she’s won the mother-in-law Olympics. The lottery. (I won that lottery. I was like, “Just take it. Take the fucking win!”)
S: There was a French musical I watched recently where a woman had a choice between a job with benefits and a sexy boyfriend with whom she would hitchhike through Europe. I was like, “Choose the job! Job with bennies!”
G: The job, really?
S: Which is going to love you longer, the job or the boyfriend?
G: But you’ve got to go have sex in Europe for a while. I mean, I never did that, but still.
S: Job with bennies.
G: I would not trade the time I spent traveling around Asia in my early 20s for anything.
S: If you put it that way, okay. I was thinking job vs. relationship. Because I would choose travel over a job.
G: If you’re with someone and the relationship is no good, and you travel together, that will disintegrate very quickly. And then that’s gone and you find yourself waking up in a strange place you don’t know surrounded by people who are suddenly much more interesting. Let’s share a cab! I’m off to wander the night market alone.
I love that we were both having a dialogue with the book. Nancy told me that the book doesn’t really have a plot, it’s about the characters, so you have to find them moving. I don’t usually connect with characters in this way. I’m much more about setting and tone.
S: I was worried it was going to be one of those literary books that didn’t have an ending, but there is an ending! Because that was one of things I learned in the genre class I took from Nancy at the University of Washington — genre books have to have a certain type of ending or they aren’t that genre. But literary fiction can end in any way. Was this just going to end with me freaking out about Lizzie’s life choices? No. It has an ending.
G: And it’s full of great sentences.
S: I stopped, laughed, and enjoyed them.
G: I think Nancy is going to be very happy to hear that.