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The Other Girl
by Alexandra Ares
Reviewed by L. Alonso

"My eyes are closed. The burning noon sun is creeping under my eyelids flashing red, an insidious wound stinging intermittently, reminding me that I hurt; therefore I am."

Maxim Smirnov has lofty aspirations. He wants to follow Mark Zuckerberg's entrepreneurial footsteps and become a billionaire before he's 30. But he's not there yet. A Russian immigrant navigating the competitive streets of New York, Max lives moment to moment, software contract to software contract. He sleeps in his office. All of his belongings fit inside an orange bed sheet folded in four. It's no surprise his stunning girlfriend is reluctant to move in with him. Answering an ad for a roommate, Maxim finds an unlikely friend in Giordana Gatti, a movie animator and fellow lonely heart who tells her story over the course of a prolonged conversation and quite a few glasses of Jack. Giordana's tale of unrequited love with a much older man is both familiar and illuminating, revealing disappointments and betrayals with biting insight that draws subtle parallels between the lives of these two characters.

Written primarily in dialogue, The Other Girl is a fascinating exploration of a man and a woman whose rich and complex lives intersect briefly but are changed immeasurably. There is something both natural and elevated about the conversations between Max and Gio that draw the reader in and keep them invested in the extended discussion. Giordana's narrative about the doomed relationship that she compromised her identity to salvage is told with unflinching honesty that meanders into the philosophical. While this is not a traditional story in terms of plot, Ares captivates the reader by creating two people who are realistically flawed and vulnerable in a way that not only provokes sympathy but connects with the reader on a fundamental level. Though the ending lacks a sense of real closure, the ambiguity with which it is drawn remains true to the tone and themes of the novella: Life is messy and uncertain. To wrap the story up neatly would be to compromise the message.


Short fiction is a difficult form. You have to keep your focus narrow and your language compelling. Luckily, Alexandra Ares knows this, and, in less than two hundred pages, she creates a beautiful, evocative, emotional tale of two broken people trying to heal.

The book opens with Max, a young programmer, suggesting that he and his girlfriend move in together. She rejects him, and we learn that Max has no apartment, no home. In the search for some stability, he rents a room from Gia, a beautiful, slightly older woman, who keeps him at arm's length. As they get to know each other, the walls gradually fall down, and the heart of the story occurs one whiskey-assisted night when Gia finally tells her story. Ares allows Gia's tale to fill pages and pages, proving that this book is about where these two are now, not where they are going.
A lesser writer would turn this into a typical romance, with the pair finding happiness and hope again in each other's arms. But Ares does not fall for this cliche. She is content to let her characters be, and the book is
better for it. Max and Gia's stories are fascinating, tender, and imminently relatable. They are both imperfectly likeable, and their tragedies are personal and small, but endlessly interesting.
The prose surrounding their intimate revelations is perfectly suited to the narrative. Ares's words are beautiful and poignant, creating a vivid emotional picture but never distracting from the inner turmoil of the characters. She is talented without showing off, and The Other Girl reads like a subtle poem.
The opening quote is from Lolita, and this is a great choice. Though the relationships discussed in the following pages are much more legal (and less disturbing) than the one in Nabokov's classic, they are no less damaging. Usually I would say that including a quote from a famous author is a bit presumptuous, but Ares's skill supports the selection. This is a gorgeous, delicate, full-bodied book, and it is wonderful.


Most of the book takes place in the form of a conversation, an element that can go sour if not done well. In the case of The Other Girl, it works really, really well...This book reminded me of an art house movie...This is a great case study on how conversations in books should be written. 

What an intriguing novella! The Other Girl was so interesting and different from what I've been reading lately... I recommend it, especially if you are looking for something short and completely original.