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Book Review | I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

From the publisher: Rebecca Makkai has crafted her most irresistible novel yet: a stirring investigation into collective memory and a deeply felt examination of one woman’s reckoning with her past, with a transfixing mystery at its heart. Timely, hypnotic, and populated with a cast of unforgettable characters, this is at once a compulsive page-turner and a literary triumph.

Is this a great book? No. If you ask me about it a month from now will I be able to tell you many details? Also no. But did I scarf it down like a bag of Nacho Doritos after a hard workout in the summer? You bet. Makkai is a good writer, which kept me going despite what I see as some flaws in the story.

Our unreliable narrator Bodie was a poor kid from Indiana who got a charity case ride to a high school boarding school in New Hampshire. Her junior year, her roommate was Thalia Keith, an It girl who had rich kid friends (which decidedly did not include Bodie). Bodie’s senior year, Thalia was murdered. Head athletic trainer Omar Evans, a 25-year-old black man, quickly became the official and only suspect in the case. He confessed under pressure and was put in prison.

Years have passed, and Bodie returns to Granby to teach a mini course on podcasting. She’s a true crime podcaster who naturally has an interest in the murder of her former roommate, and in whether justice was served. She has been obsessed with the case for years. Eventually she sounds positively unhinged.

Part I of the book is good. Bodie convinces herself that justice was not served – that Omar is innocent, and that someone else got away with murder. She has a clear suspect in mind, and that’s the person for whom she Has Questions. With a little nudge, the students in her podcasting course decide to investigate Thalia’s murder.

Makkai really hammers home the violence that women face. Her narrator reminds us of cases, so many cases that we can’t remember them all or the names of the women involved. But I found her message confused and ambiguous. I was frankly puzzled by whatever message Makkai was sending on sexual inappropriateness and violence toward women. There’s also a suggestion that Mean Girls have it just as hard as every other girl, which I don’t buy. Just because you aren’t as privileged as you’d like to be, it doesn’t excuse being awful to others who are even less privileged than you are. There’s a lot of unremarkable commentary on social media and how awful it is, and on how awful so many boys/men are.

While teaching, the narrator refers to a lot of movies and directors and specific scenes and techniques. I’m not a film buff so most of them meant nothing to me and didn’t advance the story. A reader who is a big movie fan may love all the movie references and find some meaning in them. Some of the plot twists, when it came to trying to prove that the wrong man was convicted, were difficult to believe, and the racism in how he was railroaded into confessing almost seems like an afterthought. And Part II is a letdown. The book is too long – I was ready for it to end about 50 pages before it did – and Part II really drags. The ending is not surprising and not especially satisfying.

Still, this book is thought provoking and will no doubt find its readers. I read an advance reader copy of I Have Some Questions for You from Netgalley.

The book is scheduled to be published on February 21, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it in multiple formats.

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