Book Club: Rules for Saying Goodbye

This month the MC Book Club whizzes through the new paperback Rules for Saying Goodbye, which chronicles the life of an apathetic 20something drifter. Did our editors relate? Read on.
(Image credit: Rebecca Greenfield)

Synopsis: At 13, Katherine Taylor left her family's home in Fresno for an elite private school in New England, only to grow up and move to a rent-controlled apartment in New York, work as a bartender and date a string of foreigners. So what in God's name is she doing with her life? If only she — and we — could figure it out.

THEA (FASHION CREDITS EDITOR) I liked the beginning, when she talks about her prep school days a lot more than the rest of the book. It was the only time she seemed to have genuine emotions and opinions — she was in awe of her friend Page, she loved her other friend Clarissa, she was repulsed by her first boyfriend... But once she left boarding school, you never really knew what the hell she was thinking or feeling.

YAEL (ASSOCIATE EDITOR) Actually, I felt like the boarding school part could've been cut. I didn't get how all the prep school stuff connected to the rest of her life. It was almost like two different stories.

LAUREN (ARTICLES EDITOR) The thing that bugged me was, the main character never changed. She attaches herself to one guy after another, then ditches each one because they don't "get" her. And then — always begrudgingly — she runs back to her family. I mean, I liked her voice. I loved it when she says her cousin Doris, "understood the tight knot of hatred and overbearing love between our parents and their siblings, between our siblings and ourselves, and Doris understood how those relationships formed a map of how we felt about everyone else." But that's just gravy. I wanted her to evolve and she never did.

YAEL And the funny thing is, the book jacket says "With intelligence and charm, Rules For Saying Goodbye chronicles that heart-grabbing moment when you stop waiting for things to happen to you and go in search of them for yourself." Um, when did she go in search of them? Did I miss something?

ELIZABETH She was on a wild goose chase. She wasn't searching for anything except a good time.

THEA But a lot of people are like that. I have a friend just who reminds me of Katherine. I've known her since the fifth grade. To this day, we're great friends but I have no idea if there's any depth to her or if she ever genuinely feel emotions. She never seems angry, or excited, or annoyed, or depressed. She ends every sentence with a giggle. Even when we're having serious conversations! So maybe it's just hard for us to relate because all of us are really much more like Type As.

YAEL Ugh, she was a lazy ass. I had no sympathy for her. All of a sudden she's like, "I needed extra cash so I was running around doing celebrity profiles for a big men's magazine." And it's like, wha? Especially since I've been working my ass off since I was twenty-two and I have yet to write a big celebrity profile! It's like, Screw you!

LAUREN Not to mention that her parents repeatedly bail her out. She sips fancy cocktails at hotel bars and she describes it like she's playing at being rich. But she is rich! Don't get me wrong. I like a well-made sidecar, too but at least I'm paying for it.

ELIZABETH I think she's either laughing at herself and our generation or being outrageously condescending. I mean, we all know people who float from place to place, job to job. And I think Katherine takes pride in the fact that she embraced her impulses and traveled all over and took these random jobs and got her Masters. But the four of us take pride in the fact that we're playing by the rules. I think it's annoying to us that she didn't.

THEA It's hard to identify with her because you never really get to know her. She kind of glosses over these major events, like her best friend's cancer or her mom's psychotic behavior. But then later, she'll develop anorexia or her hair will start to fall out. And you never really learn enough about her to figure out why. And it was the same with the stuff she should get excited about — top magazine assignments or moving to Italy — she always had the same laissez-faire attitude.

LAUREN See, I thought Kate was very intense and very emotional. Like the scene where they're climbing the mountain in Switzerland and she realizes that her boyfriend Henry is totally not there for her. It reminded me of an ex-boyfriend who took me skiing for the first time, and left me in the dust on a mogul field. Somewhere halfway down the hill I thought, forget this guy. It was a really poignant, show-don't-tell-moment when she realizes she's on her own.

THEA But you never even understood how she really felt about Henry in the first place.

ELIZABETH Well, she was such a narcissist. Even her "rules for saying goodbye" — all of them involve manipulating the other person to make them miss her.

LAUREN But isn't that what you want when you break up? To be missed?

YAEL I mean, do we really wish all of our ex-flames well when it's over?

LAUREN The problem was that she never seemed to learn anything from each relationship. I understood that she chose guys who wanted her to be something else. Like I used to go for music snobs who'd try to teach me to love alt-country and ska, and male me feel uncool for not getting it. Eventually, I realized it was ridiculous. But with her it's an unbreakable pattern.

YAEL Ha! That's why I just declare my love for Lite FM from the get go. They know what they're getting.

ELIZABETH But Katherine's talking about knitting a scarf for his mother so she always reminds him how sweet you were. Come on!

THEA Or what about "your handwriting should be ubiquitous"? Gimme a break.

YAEL And then she writes this list, and never really thinks about Henry again. It's like please, who doesn't sometimes dwell on an ex?

THEA Throughout the whole book, you're waiting for the other shoe to drop — you're expecting some sort of climax, or a twist, where Katherine wakes up and gets her act together. She never does. But maybe that's the overarching theme of the book, like here's my book, here are the details of my life, now you figure out what it means.

ELIZABETH It could be a reflection on the blogging generation. The situations in this book go so quickly that you don't have time to really reflect on them, and the characters are all over the place so you never really have time to think about them. It's the same with blogs. Or Facebook. Maybe this book is her trying to say, this is who I am, I'll say whatever I want and do whatever I want. And you guys have to read about it.