Monday, April 9, 2018

Knowing Joe by Cheryl Anne Gardner - a review

Knowing JoeKnowing Joe by Cheryl Anne Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Cheryl Anne Gardner’s writing for some time, having read most (if not all) of her past offerings, so when her latest, Knowing Joe, appeared on my feed, I had to order a copy.

For those familiar with her novellas, this will be a departure from her often-dark style, into a new territory – satire. Nevertheless, her fans will find her usual intelligent prose in this work as well.

Not knowing what to expect, I dove straight into Knowing Joe thinking this would be a quick read about a guy, a girl, and a bench. However, my inner voice told me to slow down, which was a good thing.

On the surface, Knowing Joe is exactly what it promises on the cover – a story about “How not to have sex, not to eat noodles, and other romantic nonsense”. Yet, between the lines lurks a completely different story altogether. Whether this was Gardner’s intention or not, I do not know. What I do know is that after reading this, I do not know Joe, and I still don’t understand women – which the book never promised to help me with.

This book is about a girl, whose name we never learn. She is referred to as, simply, Girl. Girl has a friend, Matt, and a few others, and Girl finds a heavily underlined book whose previous reader mentions Joe. And this is where Knowing Joe really begins.

This novella is beautifully ambiguous, in a way that gives it a universal appeal. I must assume that this is not by accident, because it goes in line with the name choices – Girl, Joe (some average Joe, some girl we all know). The story is relatable, universal, and taunting.

Through Girl’s inner monologue, Gardner explores societal norms, issues, and expectations surrounding relationships. Girl sees she is not fitting in with what everyone else expects, engages in, or talks about. Girl questions, Girl ponders, Girl plays along, Girl rejects. Most importantly, Girl wants to stay true to herself, to be who she is, no matter what norms society dictates, no matter how many bull stories her friends tells her, no matter what the expected course is. Girl struggles in a way we all struggle with relationships, because we all question ourselves.

Gardner poignantly exposes the nonsense behind the false stories and false faces, behind appearances for the sake of others, and how those who engage in them lose part of themselves. From Girl’s point of view, she explores insecurities, fears, and desires most men and women face when it comes to being romantically involved.

While this is a quick read, the story deserves some pondering. It explores the complicated nature of women, of sex, relationships, and of friendship. In a way, it is a mirror aimed at ourselves - one that shows that we do not have to lose a part of who we are just because it is expected.

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