Note: BookishFirst.com provided me with an advance copy of The Paper Moth in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Paper Moth begins with the narrator and protagonist Abby leading, if you can call it that, a miserable life in small-town Michigan. At 27, she lives with her parents and works in a grocery store. She is a brilliant artist. However, college didn’t work out for her, and now she prefers to remain anonymous, even shunning going online.
Her childhood best friend, Elise, is far from anonymous. She has become an actress with a promising career. Abby obsessively studies Elise’s beautiful face in magazines and reads about her life and work in the interviews. As girls, they dreamed and created stories together, as Elise acted out Abby’s endless ideas.
Abby is given to premonitions in dreams, and one of them comes true for her during her 10-year high school class reunion. Of course Elise comes, and the local girl made good attracts much excitement. Elise off-handedly tells Abby to look her up if she comes to Los Angeles. It takes Elise by surprise when Abby does just that within a few months. Elise generously lets Abby stay in her home, then hires her as an assistant and lets her into her world. Abby reminds Elise of her simpler, more innocent pre-acting life, and she believes that Abby is more trustworthy than the superficial people she’s met in Los Angeles.
It becomes obvious to the reader, if not Elise, that Abby is not simple, innocent, or trustworthy. Elise understands that Abby wants to leave Michigan and go into filmmaking. Abby, however, wants more. Much more. Abby doesn’t just want to be in Elise’s world—she wants to be Elise’s world again.
Lauren Acampora makes the interesting decision to have Abby narrate in the seldom-used second person. The “you”, of course, is Elise. This reveals that whatever happens, Elise is still extremely important, in some way, to Abby. As she tells her story, Abby reveals more about her own decisions between what she considered their idyllic girlhood and the present day. Much like Abby’s dreams and the films of the director she and Elise both admire, the story becomes dark and strange.
Not everyone will like this novel. It leaves “chick lit” territory quickly, and Abby is not a character who will inspire cheering. However, it is a fascinating story of mental illness, friendship, obsession, ambition, and creativity.