The Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was scared to read this book, honestly, after various reactions I'd read. And so I kept putting off picking it up, even as its hauntingly seductive cover peered up at me enticingly from the table where I'd proudly, if skittishly, placed my copy. Sheesh, the way people talked about the ending, I was afraid that it would put a permanent crack in my soul or something. For the life of me, I don't know why I was so focused on that, rather than everyone pointing out what an awesome read it is. Because this is, truly, madly, deeply, a rich, immersive, unputdownable and wonderful book, one to be savored, not endured, as I had somehow come to fear. This will henceforth be my go-to example of how having preconceptions can hold you back from experiencing something wonderful, because I really expected Olivia, and her story, to be unloveable and reprehensible to the core, beyond the pale of understanding, let alone empathy. And, yeah, not gonna sugarcoat it (sort of silly at this point, right?), she does some kind of stomach-turningly unpalatable, cruel and self-destructive things (not really persuading you to read it yet, am I, sorry! keep reading, please!) But Tarryn's gift is to make these things, and Olivia, emotionally accessible even as they, and she, remain essentially unforgiveable. So, kindof a crap job on the summary and all that, but since there are over 3,000 community reviews, and 59 (!) Friend Reviews, that would be a little redundant anyway. I guess you've gotten the idea, or at least I hope so, that I find the character of Olivia the central and fascinating facet of this story. I love her voice, it's so honest, ironically, as she embarks on her amazing career of lies. I also love how she seems propelled to almost always do the wrong thing, even as she realizes the folly and the awfulness, but is unable to help herself. It's like she almost astonishes herself with how low she is willing to stoop. Side note - wouldn't it be kind of awesome to be loved the way she loves Caleb? Probably creepy irl, but to have someone so obsessed with you? And how about that Caleb? He's got a few tricks up his sleeve, too. I would say this story has more twists than a corkscrew, but that seriously understates the twisty-ness (and twistedness)of the plot. It would have to be a corkscrew for one of those Jereboam sized bottles to do it justice.
In addition to the intensity of the story and characters, The Opportunist is beautifully and poetically written. The image of the tree where Olivia and Caleb meet is hauntingly pervasive. I like the way Tarryn uses names, too. In the Biblical story, Noah sent out a dove (ava), who returned ultimately, after the floods of tears and tumults, with an Olive branch. Yes, everything had been destroyed, but hope remains, and those images resonate with the story for me. I also thought it was cool the way Tarryn referenced Caleb's habit of backwards names - it emphasized that almost everyone in the book (except Cammie, a great side character, btw!), seems to have both a public and a hidden identity or agenda. Which I guess is a nice way of saying they are all two-faced liars with something to hide. And Leah, namesake of one of the greatest deceptions in the Bible, fits right in.
And as for the ending? Ok, yes I cried, it was one of those chest clenchy cries that sneaks up on you, and wrings the tears out, even as you feel relief and sadness intermingled. But no, my soul isn't cracked. In fact it feels fuller, richer, more humane, somehow, for having shared Olivia's journey. Do yourself the favor of experiencing it yourself, don't be scared!
BTW, the title of this review is from Olivia's description of the coffee shop where she and Caleb go to reconnect. I thought it was a good description of the book, too, although honestly, I didn't find it depressing, just sad.
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