3 out of 4 stars
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All In: A Novel by L.K. Simonds is a fictional tale about redemption. Cami is twenty-nine and enviously successful. Her first novel was a sleeper hit, turning Cami into a best-selling author and minor celebrity. Based on outward appearances, Cami has it all, but underneath the façade, she’s fading fast. The successful writer has a handsome boyfriend, but Joel is starting to feel like the two are no longer compatible because of Cami’s crippling emotional distance. In a last-minute attempt to assuage Joel’s feelings, Cami starts seeing a therapist. Although her sessions don’t seem all that helpful, Cami is forced to think about her life and her past, and she doesn’t much like how these reveries make her feel. One day, a random phone call from a stranger claiming to be a distant relative changes Cami’s life forever.
The novel is told from Cami’s first-person perspective, and this was a strong choice. Cami is abrasive and cynical, yet she is also incredibly astute, making her a narrator worthy of a reader’s investment. As Cami experiences life, her voice masterfully captures the confusions and expectations many young women face when at a crossroads. Still, some readers may find her callousness unlikable; however, Cami is so strikingly complex that her narrative is nothing short of entertaining, no matter how one feels about her character. Similarly, the author showcases a real knack for developing intriguing secondary characters. For example, Kate, the distant relative, exudes an air of mystery, leaving the reader guessing at her motives even though they were clearly laid out upon the character’s introduction.
Simonds should also be praised for her expert descriptions. A significant portion of the novel takes place in New York City. Cami’s success as a best-selling author has allowed her to live out the life she’s always dreamed. She has a beautiful apartment and access to culture and luxuries one can only find in The City of Dreams. I reveled in the descriptions of the people, places and atmosphere Cami experiences. Her boyfriend, Joel, works for the Broadway production of Cats, and the references to the show and its characters were insightful metaphors for parts of Cami’s journey.
In spite of this praise, a significant problem lies within the book’s identity. Although the categorization isn’t initially clear, All In is sometimes marketed as Christian fiction. However, Cami’s character is more in line with the gritty female protagonists found in mainstream fiction, reminding me closely of Gillian Flynn’s Camille Preaker or Amy Dunne from Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, respectively. Further, Simonds’ writing is equally raw and uncompromised, not shying away from Cami’s promiscuity and substance abuse. Again, All In feels more like the mercilessly-honest styles of current literary stars like Ottessa Moshfegh and Celeste Ng, and not at all like a Christian fiction novel. It isn't until the last ten percent of the book that a drastic change towards Simonds’ religious intentions occurs. Although the development of Cami’s story is sufficient to uphold Simonds’ ending, the conclusion still felt out of place, even downright wrong in comparison to the majority of the narrative.
All In is a curious book due to its disconnected ending, and this makes it difficult to recommend. It’s likely that typical readers of Christian fiction won’t appreciate the majority of the novel, but they will find solace in its resolution. On the other hand, fans of gritty literary fiction are sure to enjoy Simonds’ beautiful prose and engaging storytelling, though they will probably groan over the finale. Likewise, the book’s confused identity made it difficult to settle on a rating. I thoroughly enjoyed following Cami’s narration, and Simonds’ writing is exceptional; however, I really struggled to find a connection between the disturbingly-real nature of Cami’s story and Simonds’ typical Christian-fiction ending, so I landed on 3 out of 4 stars.
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