“Liberty had always been plagued by the sense that her immense privilege meant that she owed some substantial debt. But what exactly she owed, and to whom, was never clear.”
She Regrets Nothing is a coming of age tale set in the world of mass privilege and wealth. The story centers on the Lawrence family, divided nearly twenty years ago with a scandal no one will talk about.
When Liberty Lawrence, finds out they have a cousin living in Michigan, she tries to find out more about their history. And why they have never reached out to the family. But when Laila’s mother dies, leaving her an orphan, Liberty decides enough is enough and works to close the chasm in the family once and for all.
“She was reminded by meeting her cousin that you only had so much time with people, only so many chances to make things right. Holding grudges — as her father had obviously done with his brother — was never worthwhile.”
Laila Lawrence was raised not knowing the wealth her grandfather built in New York. She knew nothing of the lavish lifestyle of her cousins or the comfortable trust fund given to each of them. When she finds out she can’t help but feel that she is being denied her right to her share. She becomes determined to fight her way into the family, whether they welcome it or not.
Her refusal to give up on what she sees as her fair share, threatens to open the scandal that cut her father out of the family in the first place, along with potentially setting off a string of new scandals in her wake.
“Laila’s foremost skill seemed to be burning bridges so thoroughly that there would be no hope of return — perhaps this was her way of daring herself to keep going.”
This book is dripping full of privilege and entitlement. It would be difficult to write the story in a way that didn’t have it. The idea that Laila feels she is owed, with little knowledge of the reason behind why she has been cut out, screams nothing if not entitlement. The decisions she makes paint her in a not very flattering light, one screaming of social climber and a ruthless one at that.
That’s not to say that Laila is the villain of this book. Nearly everyone in the book could be a villain. Certainly none of them are innocent, or unblemished with their own biases that wealth has afforded them. Which makes this book a delightful and intriguing look at that darker unspoken side to wealth.
Dunlop does a fantastic job painting a vivid picture of not just the Lawrence family, but their friends and acquaintances. It’s difficult to really sympathize with any of them, short of Liberty, but even she carries with her a biased view of the world. She loathes the very money that paved the road to her independence, but anyone looking in can see that she wouldn’t be who or where she is without the money. A fact that she seems blinded to.
“It was a rich woman’s paradox: she didn’t need the money, so she didn’t chase it and was therefore followed by it everywhere.”
The fact that Laila is exactly like the rich people who look down on her is irony at it’s finest. She is just as calculating, and willing to act on her impulses and whims as they are. It’s just that she doesn’t have the pillow of wealth to protect her from the consequences and judgment like they do. Which is simply a fascinating look at how we forgive the wealthy for some horrific behaviors and then condemn the poor for behaving in the same manner.
While the book primary focuses on Liberty and Laila, there is a rather interesting examination of men and women. The roles they play, and how wealth drives the power between the genders is raised throughout the plot. There are multiple examples of how differently men and women view marriage and their role within it. While these women have much more power than the average housewife becomes questionable as each back story is revealed and explored.
Woven into this dissection of gender, is the topic of sex and beauty. Laila is clearly the young, vixen-like woman who uses her beauty as a type of currency. Again, she does this with scorn, when Nora, tries to do the same and is forgiven her efforts since she is not as beautiful but infinitely more wealthy. The conversation on beauty and how it is perceived, used and scorned is fascinating in each female characters. Liberty, conversely, is also beautiful, but sees her beauty as a liability and not an asset. But again, her wealth protects her from connotations of spinster or stuck up, and makes her enigmatic and mysterious.
“Betsy often spoke this way of Laila’s looks, as though they were a thing separate from her entirely, something that Betsy had handed down to her and that she now had a responsibility to use properly.”
There are two scenes, separated in the book, that really strike home for me the very dichotomy of Laila and Liberty and how unfairly one is viewed. They both involve sex, and without giving too many details, I found both of these encounters to be somewhat similar, but Laila’s I’m sure is met with more scorn and blame than Liberty’s. These were both powerless women being used by powerful men, yet one is more sympathetic than the other.
“How easily we’ll look past a person’s fatal flaws if their beauty is striking enough.”
This book is full of these dissections and conversations, which are very #richpeopleproblems. There is an elite tone throughout the book that is impossible to ignore, and if you get caught in that scandalous yet superficial plot, it would seem that this book is frivolous and meaningless. However, this book highlights the problems inherent in our society by focusing in on one family. We are more forgiving of wealth, and scorn those seeking it. We are more likely to hold a woman more accountable for her beauty if she uses it in any way that we view as inappropriate. We excuse ruthlessness in a man and condone it in women. We forget the privilege some people are born with and become complicit in their entitlement.
“She found it wearisome how these Manhattan kids congratulated each other so much for winning a hundred-yard dash they’d begun at the ninety-yard line.”
She Regrets Nothing is dark and devious. It is full of delicious scandal. Everything about each character is appalling yet fascinating. This book is for anyone who wants to peel back the shiny veneer on wealth and expose it for all it’s hypocrisy. The ending will shock you and yet is highly satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed this ride.
Thank you BookSparks and Atria Books for sending me a copy to read, review and promote for #WRC2018.