Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser

A novel about two young art students, the thrills they enjoy and the wounds they inflict on themselves and each other.

paulina and fran

Rachel B. Glaser (Pee on Water; MOODS) focuses on two memorable, magnetic characters in Paulina & Fran, a novel of the challenges in friendship and love, beginning in a New England art school.

Paulina is flamboyant, wildly sexual and capable of great cruelty toward her friends. She attacks the world with a confident demeanor but is secretly plagued by an inability to get what she wants, because she doesn’t know what that is. Fran is more self-contained, a talented painter but lacking commitment, easily swayed by the love and approval of others. On a school trip, the two are drawn together, owing in part to their lack of other social options, but the bond they form is remarkably powerful, even hypnotic, on both sides. The mesmerizing spell is broken when Fran ends up dating Paulina’s ex-boyfriend, setting into motion a series of mutually destructive events that follow the two women–and collaterally the helpless boyfriend–well past graduation.

Paulina can be repellently vicious, while Fran is merely lost; both will occasionally try the reader’s patience, but both are finally sympathetic. These are finely detailed, compelling, complex young adults facing archetypical trials: work and art; sex, devotion, obsession and betrayal; the cavernous future; and how to be oneself and be a friend. Their journey is often funny and sometimes horrifying, filled with pretentious art “crits” (critiques), thrift store fashion and homemade hair products. Paulina & Fran is both a glittering, raucous ride and a thoughtful depiction of life: painful and ecstatic.

This review originally ran as a *starred review* in the September 8, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 crits.

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