Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Song Pairing: “Nobody” by Mitski  Listen Here / 2018 HELLO YELLOW REVIEWS Playlist

On her death bed, Frances Jellico is transported back to the summer of 1969. 

A meek and introverted woman, Frances never expected to befriend Peter and Cara, a seductive couple with a penchant for hedonistic behavior. All three spend a summer together in a dilapidated mansion, tasked by the home’s last surviving heir to judge the worth of antiques and architecture. Of course, just like any other summer of self-discovery, things get out of hand and unwind into a crime that will define the rest of France’s life.

Claire Fuller is by far one of my favorite fiction writers. In a previous review for Swimming Lessons, I wrote that Fuller is an undeniable talent, but nothing would come close to the perfection that was Our Endless Numbered Days. Her first book is still my favorite, but Bitter Orange is such a close second it might as well be a tie.

“Her story would have been simply memory and imagination without me to hear it; undiscovered and unaired, like a book without a reader.”

The atmosphere is drenched in slow molasses tension. Everything about this novel is at once lush like an overly ripe orange tree, and utterly defunct like molding ceiling plaster. Though the plot is leisurely, the pay-off is palpable, and it comes with a satisfying Fuller-style twist. Every woman Fuller writes is multi-faceted, fully-fleshed, deceptive and honest all at once. Every women Fuller writes is as real to me as myself, and I see parts of myself in all of her characters.

Hopefully it doesn’t give too much away to discuss the parallels between Cara and Peter’s relationship in Bitter Orange to the unnamed narrator (“Fred”) and Holly Golightly in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Do you think he loves me? Would he do anything for me?” Cara asks Frances one day during a lazy picnic. Cara is a sweet and flighty doe, the embodiment of the inner child, capitalizing on coy innocence tinged with forlorn melancholy. Peter is her charming, handsome protector, completely unaware (or completely uninterested) of the effect he has on the opposite sex. I read their relationship as an extension to the classic novella and it gave me so, so much satisfaction.

With a haunting eloquence Fuller gives us a chilling ending to remember Bitter Orange by, and I won’t stop talking about it anytime soon.

Pick it up at your local library or bookstore when it comes out on October 9th. Thanks to Net Galley for my pre-pub copy in exchange for an honest review.

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