Sometimes the worst mistakes lead to the best results.
That's the thesis of L.A. author Kathy Ebel's funny, honest, first novel, Claudia Silver to the Rescue. Set in early-'90s New York, the book follows a 20-something college grad figuring out her place in the world, careerwise and otherwise. Her series of ill-advised work and personal decisions ruin her relationships with some people but give others just the kick in the pants they need to get their lives back on track.
And while it would be easy to scream at the title character — say, “Don't let shady guys make long-distance calls on your work's dime,” or “Maybe that wasn't the best way to handle a job interview,” or “That love affair is not going to end well” — who doesn't make stupid mistakes in their 20s?
“I wanted to create the storyline before the train wreck and show how the train wreck came to be and how those characters came out of it,” Ebel says. Her main character, she adds, isn't an anti-hero — “she's just a person.”
Ebel was born in the United States to German Jewish immigrants and raised in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn before graduating from Barnard College and becoming creative director at NBC Universal in Los Angeles. She borrows from her own experiences. The book is filled with the desperation and determination common to those who are waiting for their lives to start, no matter what their coast. It's a world where being down to your last $40 is a reality, but so is the collection of vintage handbags in your bedroom. It's one where living with your college best friend and letting her pay a greater share of the rent doesn't feel awkward — but a paramour in his 40s seems “old.”
Like many young women, Claudia Silver has issues with her mother, a single parent who's made her own mistakes, particularly with men. Claudia gloms onto other families when her own fails to offer her the comfort she craves. Because of this, the mother characters are some of the strongest in the book.
“I think one of the things that's really interesting about motherhood is how much ambivalence plays into that job,” says Ebel, herself a parent. “And it's so taboo to even have mixed emotions about being a mother. I think all women really have to carve out their individual identities from impossible ideas.”
The book undoubtedly will be compared to Lena Dunham's HBO series, Girls. (Second-season billboard tagline? “Almost getting it kind of together.”) Ebel watched the show's first season and adores Dunham's movie Tiny Furniture. “It's truly marvelous what her reach has been and her influence,” she says.
And while Ebel wasn't raised with the same privileges as Dunham has been accused of having, she says, “I think that young, smart, ambitious, creative people, as long as there have been people, have this universe of contradictions in them.”