Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

IMG_1684“Because what is love, if not listening, as uninflected – as uncontained – as possible.”

A uniquely presented story, Innocents and Others follows two women, Meadow and Carrie, who became best friends as teenagers in the ’80s and who both go on to become filmmakers.  Meadow takes the craft very seriously and is of the tortured genus variety, while Carrie enjoys the fun and humorous aspects of movies.  The book largely focuses on Meadow and her experiences in filmmaking, and we get to know Carrie mostly through her relationship with Meadow.  Another perspective present throughout the novel is that of Jelly, a woman who cold calls successful men in the entertainment industry as a way to connect using the power of listening.  We learn about her past and what brought her to that point.  Eventually, Jelly’s story intersects with Meadow and Carrie, providing a view of filmmaking from a different angle.

On the surface this is a story about filmmaking, however the author delves deeper into themes of friendship, connection, belonging, feminism, self-awareness, and the narrative through which we choose to present a story. The book switches from three different perspectives, those of Meadow, Carrie, and Jelly.  It also switches from different time periods, showing the start of Meadow and Carrie’s friendship to their development as filmmakers and the contrasting paths they take.  We also get to see Jelly’s story, through past and present relationships.  By far, Jelly’s perspective was the one I found most captivating and I would have loved an entire book with her story.  There is so much emotion and vulnerability that comes across with her character, which is incredibly engaging.  What especially stood out for me were her thoughts on the importance of listening:

“You listened.  The opposite were the people who started to speak the second someone finished talking or playing or singing.  They practically overlapped the person because they were so excited to render their thoughts into speech. They couldn’t wait to get their words into it and make it theirs.  They couldn’t stand the idea of not having a part in it.  They spent the whole experience formulating their response, because their response is the only thing they value.”

It is a well written novel with some lovely passages.  It does go quite in-depth into filmmaking, so if it is a subject you are not interested in it can come across a little too descriptive at times.  I also found the flow of the novel to not be quite as fluid as I would have liked, due to the different perspectives and time periods explored.  However, there is something very beautiful and understated about Innocents and Others that makes it a very worthy read.

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