A dazzling debut, “Like I Used To” is a slick slasher novel about women, written by a woman, that impresses with both beauty and depth.
What wonderful energy crackles within these words and passages and paragraphs and pages.
So what exactly is Like I Used To?
To put it bluntly, it’s so many things that it ultimately becomes hard to characterize.
It’s a horror tale, to be sure. Most certainly a rumination on the changes from girlhood to womanhood. A dissertation on grief, and the way in which it can manifest. A bit of grrrl power. And other things besides.
No need for a séance; they have brought their own ghosts.
If I’m being frank, I felt a lot of the same feelings reading this one as I did with The House Of Leaves. Though they are certainly not the same type of story, nor really told in the same way, they do impart the same sense of experience.
I didn’t just read some words: I actually had a moment. Or several moments strung together by the same thread, like link sausages, so that they felt like one moment.
Like I Used To ultimately feels like some transcendent tome that, ever so slightly, lays bare some of the exotic mysteries that are the psyches of modern women.
It’s as if some of us (who would normally NOT be in the know) are being let in on the secret, or at least a few facets of said secret.
A cougar would love to eat me, Carly thought. Just my luck… to be devoured by a cougar before I have the chance to become one.
Is it a traditional story? Is it someone narrating? Is it both concurrently and a few other things besides? The answer to all of those is a resounding yes.
There are moments of fourth wall breaking. There are moments of two disparate points in time overlapping. None of which should work as well as it does.
Distilled down into its trace elements, this is a book about a massacre and the fallout for the surviving teens as they enter middle age, finding themselves drawn once again into a frenzy of murder and mystery.
We have a final girl, her stalwart (except when they aren’t) friends, and other assorted people in their orbit. There’s the framework of a slasher film here, familiar bones arranged in such a way that they make a new creature entirely.
Usually, I would talk about the main character(s), the main villain, and the supporting cast right around this time of the review. Yet, it would be nigh impossible to characterize these characters, especially the main women, in just a few paragraphs.
They are themselves when they are by themselves, and they are themselves-plus, depending on who they are with at the time.
They are genuinely complex people with complex emotions, coming from a very complex and terrifying experience in their past. So, I guess I could say that I liked all of them at times and disliked all of them sometimes — but I cared about them from beginning to end. Much like those people we know in the real world.
In short, this book truly is wonderful.
It’s mystical and magical, microscopic and massive, mundane and meaningful, all at once.
Sometimes all of the above, all in the very same sentence.
It’s something I would have claimed to be impossible just a few before picking up this book. And yet Kelly pulls it off with apparent ease. In fact, the entire book is written in a way that few would attempt and even less could pull off.
But she’s not showing off. She’s just letting the story flow in her own way, and Like I Used To is all the better for it.
There are some deep thoughts on these pages. Some real down-n-dirty examinations of the little things we try to hide from each other and from ourselves as well. Many books try to be deep, but this one manages it with incredible regularity.
Like I Used To won’t be for all readers. The book forges ahead like a Karen through a Starbucks drive-thru, unapologetic in its execution. It makes no admissions of guilt and doesn’t care for those left in its wake. As if glancing in its rearview mirror, saying, “If you can’t keep up, you shouldn’t have stepped up.”
But I stepped up, and I kept up.
Those looking for a pristine literary experience should also take heed. There are some grammatical and punctuation missteps, though nothing egregious. And head-hops, which I generally take great issue with, are frequent. But in this tale, with this type of delivery, they actually fit.
You know how it’s not the destination that’s usually important but the actual journey itself? Well, this journey was un-fucking-forgettable, and I thank Kelly for bringing this ugly-pretty baby into the world and sharing her with us.
My hat is off to you, Kelly Mintzer, for you accomplished what so few writers actually do; genuine originality. My hat is off… and might never be donned again.