Dana Spiotta’s novel Innocents and Others captures an artist’s journey, the deterioration of friendship, and the misconduct of the lonely. The three main characters are all so different yet Spiotta weaves their stories together wonderfully.
The book follows the lives of Meadow Mori, a rich artsy Los Angeles native, her lifelong best friend Carrie Wexler, and a woman named Jelly who uses her listening skills to get well-to-do men to fall in love with her over the phone. The story traces their lives from the present, back to the 70’s and up to the present again. It shows how Meadow and Carrie forged their friendship and their careers, and how the latter led them in different directions, though they held on to threads of what remained. It also traces the path that led Jelly to a life of lies and seduction.
Meadow is an immersive type of artist who dives into her work, one project at a time and does not surface until she is either satisfied or ready to discard. She goes from filming her best friend to filming trains to filming her new boyfriend. It is this final thing that changes her as an artist. In this moment she pushes someone close to her in order to improve her art. This becomes a defining moment in Meadow’s life and raises the question: How far must one go for their art?
Carrie is the social one. She cares more about making people laugh and forming emotional bonds than about accolades and bigger messages. Carrie marries and starts a family while maintaining her career as a screenwriter for female-led comedies. While Meadow is focused solely on her career, Carrie tries to salvage what remains of their friendship.
Jelly on the other hand never had the friendship that Meadow and Carrie shared. She has only had relationships with men that ended. However, one very important relationship with a man named Oz, led her to phone phreaking. This ability to manipulate tones and connect to people across the world led Jelly to forming her own phone identity and using it to build connections with men in Hollywood.
All three of these women have experienced their own highs and lows on their journeys, whether their search was for art, family, or love. I enjoyed the depth of character that Spiotta explored with these three women. She allows Meadow to explore the darkness within herself in a way that called everything she had ever done into question. This sort of self examination is risky business, but in this case it was done so in a way that was evocative and emotional. As for Carrie, she has to fight to maintain her friendship with Meadow as it falls through the cracks, and Jelly has to face her actions after years of misleading men through the art of conversation. For these characters, the story lies in what they do to get what they want and in many cases the question is: Did they go too far? However, no matter the answer the story itself is a ride worth taking. Spiotta’s characterization is exceptional. Her development of the three main characters makes the story a fast read as you turn the page and delve deeper into the lives of these intriguing women.
Innocents and Others