Book Review: Kill All Your Darlings

The Fiction Addiction

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Kill All Your Darlings(novel cover art from the publisher)

Maybe I would have liked Kill All Your Darlings more if I hadn't read The Plot first. The central conflict is the same, where a stolen manuscript accidentally reveals too much about an actual crime. I did love how the conflict kicked off, when a local cop who loves reading thrillers in her free time notices that certain details are just too accurate and too familiar. But overall, I found this novel slightly too flat to feel like a thriller and without enough nuance to feel like a lit novel with suspense elements.

In the pressure of publish-or-perish, Connor's stolen a manuscript from a student, who handed him an amazing, handwritten thesis draft, with only one copy in existence, before disappearing. Connor seemed to care a great deal about his students, which made the theft an odd choice, but I think real humans can be pushed to out-of-character actions in desperation, so I bought that he was desperate enough to steal the draft.

But Madeline, the actual author of the novel, reappears. She agrees not to immediately expose him as a thief and a fraud, if he'll pay her his royalties from the book she wrote. Of course Connor, in the defense that every rich person has told every poor person, insists that wasn't even that much money, and anyway he spent it all the house (that he owns) and he still has to go to his (stable, professional) day job! He's not rich or something! It's one of the few nuanced moments in this novel -- it's an amount of money that didn't seem like much to Connor would be life-changing to Madeline, money that should be hers, and she still can't get it.

After a really promising beginning, I found the rest of Kill All Your Darlings underwhelming. The turns were less twists about the manuscript or the murders, and more about men behaving badly. The question was less about how the incriminating details made it into Connor's book, but which scenes of men being creeps were tied to the manuscript mystery, and which were just another day of another man being kind of a dick to the women around him.

Whenever I read, I want a character to root for. They don't have to be the good guys, I've wanted criminals to get away with literally murder in some novels, but they do have to be sympathetic or relatable in some ways. In Who Is Maud Dixon? I was absolutely rooting for a certain criminal to get away with it. Books like The Likeness and The Devotion of Suspect X work for me because I fall into caring for both sides, and I know they can't all be ok.

Unfortunately, I didn't really connect with anyone here. There's a flat interchangeability between all the powerless and pretty women characters, which I thought was a strange meta joke, because Connor is asked about how he was able to write such developed, complex women characters in "his" novel. But then, there's a sameness to all the entitled and creepy men, too, creating a world when men are jerks and women are young, pretty, and weak. There's one queer character, who insists she's not part of the system, almost like she's aware she's a token. I got pretty far into Black Buck before catching on (in my defense, the parody of cult-ish startup life was a lot like a recruitment pitch for a startup job) and I kept wondering if maybe I was missing a joke?

Anyway, I think I might have liked this whole novel more if I hadn't recently read The Plot, which had so many of the same themes with more subtlety and surprise. Overall, I loved the concept but didn't love the world of creepy dudes and powerless women, and I wasn't surprised enough by the twists to carry a novel where I didn't really have someone to root for.

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