Sometimes, when life is crap for one reason or many reasons, I like to relax with books I’d filed under the sub-genre of Rich People Problems. Some people might find these sorts of books boring, and I sometimes do. But sometimes, when my mood is right – and by that I do mean grumpy and grouchy, I do get a pick-me-up from indulging in the lives of Rich People Problems. This works for fiction, especially, because actual rich people often get away with too much in real life.
I read Reputation by Sara Shepard in September, three months before it’s release. (Why not get ahead on some NetGalley ARCS, right? Especially when I’m so behind.) I need something different to read, after a heavy memoir, so I picked it. And I picked right. For the most part.
Reputation is the story of Aldrich University, a fictional almost-Ivy League college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You know it’s almost-Ivy because Aldrich gets hacked, along with the Ivies, as Shepard points out time and time again. It seems like a very important point and, to be fair, it more or less is. It creates a culture and setting without placing a ridiculous amount of scandal in a non-fictional university. Which probably is important if you don’t want to get sued by ‘Ivies.’
Anyway, a hack. Someone hacks the databases connected to the school (and to the hospital associated with it… see? prestigious setting). Everything gets posted online. Who’s dealing cocaine to their students, who’s sleeping with who, who’s got gambling debts up to their eyeballs, who’s been assaulted at drunken frat parties… all of it.
The book, to it’s credit, focuses for the most part on the adults and not on the students. Before I started I saw that Sara Shepard wrote/created Pretty Little Liars so it was a nice surprise to have a more adult mystery/thriller. Focusing on the adults also means you jump right into a wild world of romantic shenanigans. I mean, the book starts with Kit Manning-Strasser, daughter of president of Aldrich University, star of the fundraising department (adorably called the Giving Department… Rich People Problems, I tell ya), and wife of the renowned cardiac surgeon at the hospital, drunkenly toying with the idea of a one-night stand with a smooth-talker met in a hotel bar. Kit has all sorts of problems… dead husbands, unfaithful husbands, daughters with secrets, a bad relationship with her sister, and an absolutely awful taste in men.
This makes for excellent reading, if you’re in the mood to perk yourself up reading about someone else’s absolute train-wreck of a life. And she’s fictional, so no lives were actually harmed in the making of this fantastically wild ride.
The Strasser part of Kit’s name comes from Dr. Greg Strasser – renowned cardiac surgeon and lothario of Aldrich University and the ritzy neighborhoods that house it’s people.
Greg winds up dead (as the Goodreads blurb tells you so don’t yell at me about spoilers) and most of the book focuses on the sundry ways he was a creep. Wooing the wife of his dying patient, upping the wooing in the moments after said patient dies on the operating table, being a grouch on a fancy vacation in Barbados when his college student stepdaughter rejects his skeevy advances, sleeping with a nurse (or a few nurses), more or less stalking one of them, paying for a friend of his stepdaughter to attend Aldrich… apparently because he need a charity project and she’s from the wrong side of the tracks… and the list goes on.
Really, you walk away with the idea that murder couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
How the story wraps up, though, with the reveal of his murderer falls flat (and literally everyone was a suspect at one point, literally everyone). It’s too… perfect. Too much of a forced happily ever after. So, in the end, Reputation comes so close to being pretty damn good and just doesn’t quite make it.
Three Things It Does Wrong
- The ending. The happily-ever-after for people that seems forced and… too easy. Nobody walks away from all that happened at Aldrich with any lasting damage. It’s not very believable.
- The overuse of a toxic woman trope, in that most of the book is centered on women being awful to each other. (Somebody gets drugged, somebody sleeps with a friend’s husband, somebody cons people to get rich… it’s all there and it’s not always enjoyable.)
- Stereotypes. So many stereotypes. (And I realize I’m saying that while admitting to enjoying reading about people suffering but… they’re fictional, they don’t mind.) The wrong-side-of-the-tracks character is stereotyped in every way possible except having an meth or opiod addiction.
Three Things It Does Right
- Shepard does a fantastic job at giving everyone (again, literally everyone) a believable motive for wanting Greg Strasser dead. This makes for a compelling mystery.
- Though not always handling it with the tact and sensitivity it might deserve, Reputation does confront issues like the rape culture on college campuses and the effect that such a culture has on survivors long after they graduation.
- I don’t think the book takes itself too seriously. In the notes after the book, Shepard says she initially developed the idea for television and that might account both for some of it’s faults as a novel and for some of it’s merits as a quick, fun way to escape into someone else’s problems.
I received a copy of Reputation through NetGalley and Dutton in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.