Innocents and Others: A Novel

“This is a love story,” Innocents and Others begins. And it will say that again more than once, though conventional romance is almost entirely sidelined in Dana Spiotta’s tricky, unsettling novel. Instead, she’s interested in other kinds of connections—the feverish intensity of female friendships, the single-minded focus of obsession, the sudden communions that spring up between strangers. But most of all, Innocents is about its three main characters’ lifelong love affair with cinema—“black-and-white movies, Technicolor movies, glistening silent movies, short and long movies, old and contemporary movies, funny slapstick movies, deep subtitled movies, glorious American movies”—and the magic it takes to make them.

That’s what bonds Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler when they first meet in junior high in 1980s Los Angeles. Meadow is sleek and arty and aloof where Carrie is chubby and awkward; Meadow has wealthy parents and a bedroom suite in Bel Air, Carrie is a latchkey kid with a single mom and a daily after-school date with The Love Boat and Three’s Company reruns. Together, though, they can spend hours watching and talking about films, and dreaming of making their own. As their teenage dabbling extends into young adulthood and then middle age, Meadow earns acclaim for her stark, esoteric documentaries while Carrie veers toward directing mildly subversive mainstream comedies. And one of them will find an eventual subject in Jelly, an enigmatic woman known for cold-calling powerful Hollywood men and drawing them into chaste but passionate relationships that she refuses to move from the telephone into the real world.

As a novelist, Spiotta is cool in both senses of the word: Her books, including the prizewinning Stone Arabia and Eat the Document, are praised for their taut modernity and lauded by literary supernovas like Don DeLillo and George Saunders. But she can also be chilly emotionally, and it’s not until late in Innocents’ disjointed narrative that her remove falls away. “It feels good,” Meadow marvels near the end, “to lose her indifference, to move outside her own experience for an instant.” It suits Spiotta, too. B

OPENING LINES “This is a love story. My boyfriend used to, used to. Now he is. Enormous. He says he worries about exposure, books, articles, lies, truth. Everything.”

Innocents and Others: A Novel
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