My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novel follows the life and times of one Addison Stone, an intimidatingly talented artist who has died in very complicated circumstances. The story begins after the funeral, and backtracks to Addison's childhood, through her adolescence and evolution of her talent, in order to better understand who this shooting star of talent was, and why the whole world is so heartbroken by her death.
The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is an accomplishment of a novel in the way that movies like The Social Network and Pulp Fiction are accomplishments of films. It's not just that the plotline and characters are compelling, but that the actual craft of the piece is so intricate, and detailed, and complex, that you notice it, without ever needing to be prompted by the story or its writer. It is a stunning feat of work, and I am glad to have read it.
You start off from the beginning: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. Unfinished. The word gives the impression that the impact of this character has not been exhausted. Untimely may have worked, or tragic, because those things would have denoted the sadness of her death (not a spoiler. Literally the first page). But Unfinished is so...Addison. It's something you can't really comprehend until you're waist deep in photos, interviews, and portraits that you begin to understand the strange magnetism that Addison Stone possesses.
Then there's the structure of the story. It's posed as an honest-to-god tell-all of this shooting star of talent. Adele Griffin immerses herself in the story, as one of Addison's brief professors at Pratt University. This, along with the multiple photos of the characters, emails, and magazine articles, bring this story to life in a way that had me wondering if it wasn't true after all.
And then you get into the actual writing. The prose is beautiful on its own. My favorite was a reference to Keats, where Addison's soul is described as a "darker word than dark." Griffin is a master at characterization as well. With every switch of perspective, I evolved differing and often warring opinions of characters (except for Roy Stone and Zach Frat. My mind was made up about them pretty much right away. I was verbally insulting them as I read their work). Readers are not unfamiliar with the concept of an unreliable narrator, but when the entire narrative becomes questionable? Then you have something. Then you truly have to figure out for yourself how you feel about Addison.
I loved Addison. I thought she was brilliant, endearing, tragic, and compelling.
I hated Addison. I thought she was selfish, obsessive, childish, and shortsighted.
But that was the incredible thing about this story. It wasn't the author's wish to deliver some sort of message or conclusion. She merely presented you with a character, and an event, and said "you figure it out." Even the eerie, almost paranormal aspect of Ida, had me questioning what I thought was the truth.
There's a line Maggie Stiefvater once said about writing novels. To paraphrase, she said that a novel is a thesis, in which you have to prove to your audience that the characters/setting/plot are real. It is the only way I can classify this novel: as a (successful) exercise in creating truth out of air and imagination. Well done, Ms. Griffin.