Book Review: Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak

Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: Little Brown & Company (May 2019)

Necessary People is a great look at the line between friendship and mutual usury. As taut as a tripwire and as piercing as a scalpel.

While I find ingratiating social climbers fairly repulsive, I have an undeniable pull to stories that center around them and the insiders who give them access. And so here, Violet Trapp recounts the story of how she and socialite Stella Bradley meet, forge a friendship and ultimately progress to loathing and contempt. Stella has the money, charisma & physical beauty thing (which is apparently blonde with blue eyes because recent fiction always makes them so; I'm starting to think the brunette socialites have gone extinct) going for her. Violet has the intelligence, determination and ambition. Both are envious of the other's gifts and talents and as inertia is wont to do, this leads them down a dark path that eventually takes both over the edge.

The tenor of the novel is tense throughout and builds uncomfortably making this a propulsive read. I knew it was all going to go badly but I didn't know how, when or if either would be left the victor in the end. I wasn't rooting for either woman but I could well see where each was coming from about the other. I was impressed by that as Violet is our narrator (and not an unreliable one). She sees and relates events but for all her careful study of the world she wants in on, misses some very clear signals and hints. I mean the sort that from a certain perspective are flashing with sirens blaring and lightning bolts raining down all around them. I credit Pitoniak with her deft writing here as it's a delicate thing to pull off.

I thought the wider Bradley family was well portrayed in varying orbits from Violet. Stella's father, Thomas and grandmother, were on the farthest edge, followed by brother, Oliver, positioning mother, Anne closest after Stella. Even so, it shone through quite clearly how each regarded Violet and her position, worthiness to be in their company and her usefulness. It was funny, sad and eye-roll worthy altogether.

Anne, Stella's mother treated Violet as a mix of hanger-on and gopher, which grated until it's remembered that Violet put up with this relegation because Violet is getting subsidized rent and status adjacency. Mutual using isn't something that inspires side taking. I found myself often screaming, "Violet, it's time to move! Why are you still here?" so I couldn't very well hold it against the characters who wondered the same, silently or not. That Violet kept going to Bradley family events and holidays frankly creeped me out. It was like she never thought to demur out of sheer politeness. I get that no one ever taught her better but Violet had never even considered the idea of a pro forma invite that is supposed to be deferentially acknowledged and declined. Violet's ambition, self-preservation and determination strangled any chance self-respect had of taking root in her. I've had a day to think about the story and I still don't know if I'd say those served her well in the end.

Pitoniak's lush prose lends itself to highlighting and wanting to remember. I found this to be the case for The Futures as well. The setting of the cable news network landscape was original and fascinating and has definitely given me another angle from which to watch.

As to books this reminded me of, this seemed the more refined, honed and glossier cousin to Social Creature by Tara Elizabeth Burton, with shades and sprinkles of Jessica Knoll's, Luckiest Girl Alive, Stephanie Clifford's Everybody Rise and Beverly Whittemore-Miranda's Bittersweet. This is the better done version of what those did in parts with varying degrees of success. And okay yes, to the low hanging fruit, it gives a nod to Highsmith's Ripley. I know that's a lot of books but I did mention at the outset that I have a pull to these sorts of ingratiator stories. I never know at the end of one of these if they're a primer for climbers or a cautionary tale for the initiated. Like, Here's how you get in vs. Let them in at your own peril. Something to ponder.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to the publisher for the ARC.

Summary: Stella Bradley is beautiful, rich, and very good at getting herself into trouble. Violet Trapp is smart, self-aware, and laser-focused on escaping her humble background--especially after Stella gives her a glimpse into a world of glamour and wealth. They are best friends, and from the moment they meet in college, they know their roles: Stella in the spotlight, and Violet behind the scenes.
After graduation, Violet moves to New York and lands a job in cable news, where she works her way up from intern to assistant to producer, and to a life where she's finally free from Stella's shadow. Until Stella decides to use her connections, beauty and charisma to land a job at the same network. Stella soon moves in front of the camera, becoming the public face of the stories that Violet has worked tirelessly to produce-and taking all the credit for it.

But Violet isn't giving up so easily. As she and Stella strive for success, they each reveal just how far they'll go to get what they want--even if it means destroying the other person along the way.
Set against the fast-paced backdrop of TV news, Necessary People is a propulsive work of psychological suspense about ambition and privilege, about the thin line between friendship and rivalry, about the people we need in our lives--and the people we don't.

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