The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin
My Rating: 1/5 TARDISes
Date Published: August 12th, 2014
Publisher: Soho Teen
Pages: 256 pages
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository
Synopsis: National Book Award-finalist Adele Griffin tells the fully illustrated story of a brilliant young artist, her mysterious death, and the fandom that won’t let her go.
From the moment she stepped foot in NYC, Addison Stone’s subversive street art made her someone to watch, and her violent drowning left her fans and critics craving to know more. I conducted interviews with those who knew her best—including close friends, family, teachers, mentors, art dealers, boyfriends, and critics—and retraced the tumultuous path of Addison’s life. I hope I can shed new light on what really happened the night of July 28. —Adele Griffin
This is a spoiler-free review.
This novel is structured in a way that makes it sort of like the literary equivalent of “found footage”. It is a work of fiction, but it is written as if it were an actual biography about an up-and-coming young artist named Addison Stone, whose life ends very suddenly when she mysteriously falls from a bridge during an art installation. Adele Griffin writes as herself and functions as a journalist who is compiling this biography; she adds in short pieces written from her point of view throughout the novel. The book is comprised of interviews with a number of Addison’s family and friends, and pictures of Addison and her artwork are interspersed within the text. All of these elements are meant to work together to make the reader feel as if this might be a real account of a person’s life.
When I first discovered this book, the concept and the format it is told in piqued my interest right away. The inclusion of the photographs of and artwork by the subject of the “biography” itself further sold me on it, and I was eager to pick it up. However, while the idea was incredibly creative and the layout of the novel quite artistic, unfortunately, the story ended up falling rather flat for me. Now, this is not at all because I started out believing this was not a work of fiction; that was clear to me from the start, and did not affect the reading experience in any way. I simply felt that, while the concept was clever, it was not executed quite as well as it could have been.
It is clear that this novel is trying to address celebrity culture in today’s society, and the idealistic views that people tend to have about those in the public eye. To construct a plot that did just that, Griffin creates the tale of a person that embodies the type of celebrity that might encounter something akin to worship from their fans. And while this is a fascinating and relevant topic, everything was far too exaggerated. Instead of presenting the reader with a subtle commentary that inspires thought, the story forms characters, situations, and relationships that are far too stereotypical to be taken seriously.
Addison is too special, too perfect to be believable, thereby making it difficult to become invested in her story. Every single person who she crossed paths with throughout her short life became instantly enamored with her; they all found some reason to utterly worship her and everything she did. It was as if she could do no wrong in anyone’s eyes no matter how poorly and immaturely she acted, and this became tiring quickly.
Addison has some problems, some struggles and issues to deal with, but it’s hard to connect with and feel for her despite that. In fact, mental illness appeared to be her only “flaw” which, quite frankly, really bothered me. Overall, I was not thrilled with the way mental illness was addressed. It was not taken as seriously as it should have been, and was many times passed off as something that simply made her life into that of an alluring, tortured artist. The strange discover at the conclusion of the novel regarding one major aspect of her mental troubles also seemed to further diminish the true severity of her illness, and was very unsatisfying and nonsensical.
As a whole, many aspects of this story were very formulaic, using far too many common literary tropes. The excessive use of clichés made this story and each of the characters feel far too much like caricatures. Many aspects of the plot were too over-the-top, and I found it challenging to bring myself to care about any of the storylines.
In terms of the format of the text, the main issue I had was that it was nearly entirely told in the transcripts of the interviews that had been conducted by the narrator after Addison’s passing. This took away from the experience for me, and slowed down the plot massively. While all the writing is the work of the real-life Griffin, the fictional author is writing next to nothing, which is very unrealistic. We see a short paragraph from her a handful of times throughout the text and that is all; mainly, we are reading the exact words of the interviewees. Overall, that ended up counteracting any attempt to give this the feeling of a real biography, and made it feel more like reading paperwork rather than an intriguing account of someone’s life.
Artistically, I loved the layout of the book. My favorite part of this reading experience was seeing the way the pictures connected to various points in the plot as it unfolded. I thought this concept was incredibly inventive and unique; this is the first time I have ever come across a book like this. I had no issues with the visual format. From a design perspective, this book completely nailed it.
Overall, this had a lot of potential. Adele Griffin had a number of good thoughts and intentions in her creation of this novel, and I would definitely be interested to read one of her other novels to experience more of her writing. She had a clear and interesting point that she was trying to make, and if she had employed more subtlety in the creation of her characters and their relationships, it would have come across in a more convincing way. The book lacked depth, and ended up feeling more like a caricature than anything. Using common stereotypes, while effective when it comes to conveying the themes clearly, ends up taking away a lot of the integrity and sincerity, making it less thought provoking and believable.
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