Review for Carrie Pilby: A Novel by Caren Lissner

Caren Lissner.  Carrie Pilby.  Ontario, CA: Red Dress Ink, 2003

Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner

Carrie Pilby book cover

Carrie Pilby doesn’t fit in–and she’s pretty much given up trying. A year out of college and settling in to life in the big city, this nineteen-year-old genius believes everyone she meets is immoral, sex obsessed and hypocritical, and the only person she sees on a regular basis is her therapist. When he comes up with a five-point plan to help her discover the “positive aspects of social interaction”, Carrie, who would rather stay home in bed, is forced to view the world in a new light.

This novel was in the discard bin in the library’s lobby earlier this week.  I’m a sucker for all things free, so I grabbed it along with a heavily highlighted Arthur Miller play & tattered Jonathan Swift.  It was a title & an author I had never heard of, but I loved the first two pages, so I kept going.  All in all, it’s a “good” book.  Caren Lissner is witty & smart.  Every page held a paragraph that I wanted to highlight & quote some place because it was just worded so perfectly & was exactly what I’ve been trying to say!  Every time I turned a page, I was yelling “Yes! I concur!”

I related to the character, Carrie, but I’m not so sure if she can be considered a universal character, though the book had universal themes.  When I was 19, I was exactly like the main character. Actually, I was exactly like her well beyond 19 as well.  The only other person that I know that’s remotely like her, is my own brother.  Her constant questioning of morals & ethics in others, as well as her need to only include friends like her was something that we held in common.  I take an all-or-nothing approach as well, and I think that’s why I liked this book at first.  But as I neared the final chapter, the author’s agenda became apparent.  That was a turn off.

I absolutely hate it when an author cannot be creative enough to disguise their philosophical agendas within a book.  If you can’t weave it into the characters, settings, actions & dialog, then why are you writing fiction?  If you have to step outside of the characters’ voice to tell the reader something, then you aren’t doing it right.

I was right there with the main  character until the last quarter of the book when she agrees to join the church & become an active member. I felt that “finding God” was a bit of a cop-out & awfully trite.  She could have found folks with like minded-morals some place else, anywhere else! Perhaps that’s just my personal preference on churches…either way, it felt cheap.

Despite Carrie’s choice in what type of organization to join, there were a few other things that nagged at me through the whole book.  The character was supposed to be a prodigy that entered Harvard at age 15.  Yet, she didn’t strike at all as smart, let alone a prodigy.  Sure, she knew a lot of information & obviously could retain most of what she read. She knew a lot of SAT words, but really didn’t showcase her knowledge in any other way. She couldn’t think for herself. She claimed to never give in to peer pressure, but did just that by refusing it. By refusing absolutely everything that was popular, without knowing what it was, she was giving in just to a different “group”. If it were a popular hair style, television program, or puff of pot, it was all rejected with the same amount of disdain.  She complained that the rest of the world mindlessly did these things, however she herself mindlessly rejected them.  She also never applied any of her “smarts”.  Even by the end of the novel, I was not at all impressed with any of her actions and choices, even the “right” ones.

The novel comes to a magnificent climax on New Year’s Eve, when she obviously makes some new changes & gets the opportunity to start over.  She doesn’t totally give up herself or give in to others, but she does make steps to reaching outside of her comfort zone. It’s uplifting.  She crosses off the final step on her list & is on her way to be a new person.  But then the novel continues for another eight pages or so.  The author basically steps in & rationalizes why she wrote this book & regurgitates the philosophies, morals, ethics, blah, blah, blah.   It doesn’t do anything for the novel.  I felt as if Ms. Lissner just didn’t know how to end the book, so she kept writing.  I got the sense that the first & last chapters had been a part of a short story or essay as some point & the rest was just mashed into the middle.  This book is definitely worth the read or a lot of reasons, however, stop at the scene in the diner, since that’s probably the most important part of the book anyway.

Happy Reading!


3 responses to “Review for Carrie Pilby: A Novel by Caren Lissner

  1. Thanks for that detailed, well-written review! Glad you got the book and actually liked it. Carrie does say at the end that she doesn’t know exactly what “God” is, so it’s not really finding God as much as just trying to believe in something. At least, I think she says that…I wrote it a long time ago! Great blog!!

    • Thanks for reading & commenting on my blog Ms. Lissner! I reread my “review” & apologize for it’s harshness. I judged Carrie like I judge my friends, which I think means she was a very well written character! I will be joining your Carrie Pilby group on Facebook since I do think this book is well worth the read. Have a fantastic day! ~Mazy

  2. Hey Mazy – just wanted to let you know what we have a team of great filmmakers working on a Carrie Pilby movie. We love the story of her journey, from her Pilby Parties to her sassy quotes – and we are currently crowdfunding the Carrie Pilby movie on Kickstarter! For a sneak peek, and to help us out, visit us at

    Carrie Pilby Kickstarter Team

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