Sometimes, a story will surprise you with its realness. Take Deanna Kizis’s Finishing Touches, for example. It starts with three friends – bossy Bryn, elegant Cecile, and Jesse, the narrator, who describes herself as a “cheerleader friend.” Jesse, who believes that she’s not as pretty or exceptional as her two best friends, is content to bask in their glow. They’re both married; Jesse can’t settle down. Jesse is obviously a talented interior decorator but is stuck toiling for a boss who doesn’t appreciate her.
Then Cecile dies, suddenly, in a car wreck. At first, we think we know where this will go, that it will be a story about how death forces the living to change their circumstances. That’s kind of it, but not exactly. After the accident, Jesse becomes close with Cecile’s widower, Zach, much to the chagrin of their friends and family. Again, we think we know where it’s going, but Kizis keeps surprising the reader.
Her characters do a remarkable thing. They don’t just trot along, doing what the plot requires of them. They act like people. They’re complicated, funny, sad and not always likable. That’s particularly true of Jesse, a woman who slowly, subtly grows up throughout the course of the novel. Kizis also captures the subtle power plays in female friendships, and how hurting your friends doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. Finishing Touches is smart, never insulting and always entertaining. It doesn’t always go where we think it will go, but it always takes the reader in interesting directions.