I’ve often wondered if books about writers are as interesting to other people as they are to writers themselves. There’s something that’s so difficult to describe about the writing process and the life of a writer that seems like it would feel foreign to people who aren’t actually going through it in their day-to-day lives. “Impersonation” is about a ghostwriter named Allie who gets hired to write a book for a promising feminist activist, Lana Breban. As a writer, I felt like Heidi Pitlor perfectly captured the desperate search for ideas when writing and how downright tempting distractions can be (“I’ll just casually flip to Instagram or Twitter to see what’s happening”) when you’re actually trying to write.
Allie is hired to ghostwrite a memoir from Lana’s perspective that focuses on motherhood and what Lana has gone through raising her son while still practicing her strong feminist ideals. The problem is that Lana isn’t entirely forthcoming with stories or details about being a mother (seeing as how she mostly leaves her son in her nanny’s care). Allie is a single mother raising a precocious little boy named Cass, so when she begins facing looming deadlines (and with Lana’s encouragement), she starts to write her own experiences in the memoir as if they were Lana’s stories. Allie has to handle the fact that she’s sharing private memories of the life she leads with her son and publishing them as if they were some other mother’s intimate recollections.
“Impersonation” is not incredibly heavy on plot. Most chapters are simply about Allie trying to figure out what to write about, reminiscing about her own experiences as a mother, and coaxing Lana to give her any bit of guidance on how to move forward with the project. Allie struggles financially and works to make extra money aside from writing in order to pay her bills. These struggles are certainly relatable, and I’m sure any parent would delight in her dogged attempts to make it past the first page in a Virginia Woolf novel without getting distracted by countless things. But for readers who like action or suspense, they won’t be finding it here. The most exciting part of the book happens towards the very end, but even then, I felt like there was a pretty swift resolution to the conflict.
I don’t know if non-writers would find this book as enjoyable as I did, but I can say that Pitlor’s writing feels fresh and accessible.
*Free ARC provided by Netgalley and Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review*