“What do you do when the one true thing in your life turns out to be a lie?”
Lee Cuddy is used to being invisible. She isn’t seen by her father, who leaves without a goodbye or even a forwarding address. She isn’t seen by her mother, who quickly succumbs to her new boyfriends whims and wishes. She isn’t even really seen by her peers, until she becomes useful to them.
“It wasn’t that they teased her or ostracized her or thought her weird, but none of them seemed to see her, either.”
All of this invisibility makes stealing easy and she quickly graduates to shoplifting. This readymade ability quickly gives her a reputation and she finds a place in popularity as Edie takes her under her wing.
But, easy come, easy go, and betrayal follows when Edie finds her the easiest way out of her own troubles.
Lee quickly sees that it isn’t just Edie that is quick to dispose of her. Her own mother, guided by Steve, allows her to take the fall, refusing to even give her the money she stashed for her defense. Life in the Juvenile Detention Center is worse than anything thrown at her so far, and a nervous breakdown lands her in the psych ward. But lower security also provides the opportunity for a quiet and invisible girl to find a way out.
The Readymade Thief is a novel that is both fast paced and maddeningly slow. This combination doesn’t seem possible, and yet it is. Every page is written so that you know something is happening, but you aren’t quite sure what. The result is you feel as on edge and unsure as Lee.
Once Lee escapes from JDC we are introduced to even more subterfuge and intrigue. We are thrown into the world of secret societies and underground movements. The S.A. parties continue to pop up, inviting her to join their world, except her gut instinct screams to stay away. Fear for her friend Edie, even after her betrayal, compels her to go searching and almost leads to disaster.
Tomi, a mysterious young man, saves her and takes her in. He introduces her to life underground, the world of abandoned building hunts and secrets of the Subnet. She wants to trust him but every turn in her life has led to betrayal and lies. Still, it’s easy to fall into his earnestness, especially given her connection to him.
Lee discovers that S.A., a secret society devoted to uncovering the hidden puzzles and meanings behind the artwork of Marcel Duchamp. She unwillingly and unknowingly finds herself at the heart of their obsession. Somehow they think she is a key to their mystery, even though she has no idea how. No matter where she turns, or what she does, she finds herself a pawn in their games, time and time again. They are always one step ahead, always surrounding her, always controlling the circumstances of her life.
This secret society is obsessed with more than just art. They are also responsible for a chilling new drug that leaves its users docile and empty. Creatures willing to do anything suggested with little or no reaction. Unable to take care of themselves, many of them end up in JDC or worse; the Crystal Castle.
This book has a lot of layers going on in it. It is easy to get overwhelmed, or lost in the information. You want to keep pushing ahead to find out what is happening, but I found myself going back to reread portions at a slower pace to really understand what was being said. This is a book that needs more than one read through to really appreciate all the detail and nuance written into the plot.
One of the examples of the level of detail and intricacy is the title. Duchamp created artworks that he called ‘readymades’. Essentially, he viewed art of the time as ‘retinal art’. Easy to look at and pleasing to the eye, but there wasn’t anything more in depth than that. His response was to take everyday items and make minor changes to them, thus instantly turning them into art. Readymade art. The title, Readymade Thief, refers to Lee, already a shoplifter and petty thief, who has been repurposed for the societies use.
Usually, reading the line of phrase that uses the title of a book is a quick AHA moment. One that makes sense in terms of a character or event. In this case, the moment isn’t written out or explained by the author so much as hinted at. You are led to it, able to uncover it’s meaning as you read. I think it’s very clever.
There is a lot of art history, specifically to the work of Duchamp. I have no idea how much is based in truth and how much created for fiction. Some parts of this history lesson got very confusing for me. It was a lot of information given. Again, I think this is an example of why the book needs more than one reading. There is just so much to dissect at once.
Rose manages to pull off quite an elaborate story. There are clues placed at the very beginning that aren’t noticed until they are pointed out later. Things suddenly make sense, and the level of betrayal in Lee’s life is astounding. Everything in this novel is connected somehow, even if you can’t see how or why, you will in the end. The pure genius is that the end answers questions you didn’t even know you had.
This book will be enjoyable for anyone who loves mysteries and suspense novels. The art history is impressive and I can’t imagine the amount of research that went into composing this plot. It’s astounding! Weaving the art into a secret society will delight any conspiracy theory lover.
Thank you First to Read, Penguin Random House and Viking books for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.