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Real Easy

Review

Real Easy

Bestselling YA author Marie Rutkoski makes her adult debut with REAL EASY, an incisive and gritty crime thriller about what it means to live as a woman in a world run by men.

By 1999, Samantha Lind, or “Ruby” as she’s known to her regulars, has danced at the Lovely Lady for years, becoming the small, carefully run strip club’s quiet star. She easily pulls $1,000 a night when she dances. Because she is not flashy or snobby about it, she has earned the respect, if not the friendship, of most of her fellow dancers, including Violet, the club’s only Black dancer; Bella, the house makeup artist; loudmouthed Sasha; and quiet, studious Georgia. When she's not dancing, she spends time homemaking with her long-term boyfriend, Nicholas, and his young daughter, Rosie.

When we meet Samantha, Jolene has joined the Lovely Lady. The world of dancing is built on contradictions. The women are sisters in that no one else understands the wear and tear of the job, but they are also competitors. They have no trouble inspecting one another for ingrown hairs or new stretch marks, but rarely confide in one another about their lives “outside.” In taking Jolene under her wing, Samantha rocks the boat a bit, drawing tension between Jolene and some of the other girls, and giving this newbie a bit too much to latch onto. Jolene is noticeably unlike the other dancers: she is clingy, desperate for approval and makes mistakes almost on purpose. On the night that she turns up high as a kite on what the girls believe to be ecstasy, Samantha agrees to take her home to avoid the club owner’s wrath and firing.

"REAL EASY is a dark, utterly gripping, character-driven procedural thriller. Rutkoski effortlessly manages multiple viewpoints, storylines and motivations with the air of a seasoned crime writer."

But Samantha, ever the expert, makes a vital mistake. Typically, the girls are not allowed to leave until the club has closed and the bouncers have surveyed the parking lot and made sure that no men have stuck around. In leaving during club hours, Samantha and a nearly unconscious Jolene, slipping out of her silvery dress, have bypassed this safety and caught the eye of…someone.

The next day, neither Samantha nor Jolene show up for work. When Samantha’s (or rather, her boyfriend’s) car is found crashed and abandoned on the side of a road, the police suspect that someone has pulled a runner after a DUI to avoid arrest. But when Detective Victor Amador notices that the seat belts have been cut and two purses remain in the vehicle, he knows he has something very different on his hands. When a silver dress-sheathed body is found nearby, a search begins for Samantha.

REAL EASY is written in multiple perspectives. In the days following Samantha’s disappearance, Rutkoski writes from the points of view of a captive Samantha, her kidnapper, Detective Amador, multiple dancers at the club, and even Rosie. Through each chapter, we gain a deeper understanding of not just Samantha, the club or life as a dancer, but life as a woman. As sex workers, the Lovely Lady dancers know that the police will not treat them with respect when they question them and often do not even care about the missing girl among their ranks. As a female detective, Amador’s partner, Holly Meylin, deals with ignorant and snide commentary from her peers as they investigate the people closest to Samantha. And Rosie starts to recognize that the world is going to be very different for her than it has been for her father or any of the men in uniform who try to speak to her.

With Samantha more or less gone within the first third of the book, Georgia emerges as a main narrator. She was once on the track for higher education, but when her single mother fell ill, she became her primary caretaker and was forced to shelve her dreams in favor of finding fast, stable income. As a biracial dancer, she has dealt with both gross, token-based sexism and its more violent twin, outright racism. Quickly realizing that the man who took Samantha will strike again, she becomes an informant for Detective Meylin, a path that forces her to question everything about her life as a dancer, daughter and woman.

REAL EASY is a dark, utterly gripping, character-driven procedural thriller. Rutkoski effortlessly manages multiple viewpoints, storylines and motivations with the air of a seasoned crime writer. Though she begins casting a wide net writing from several perspectives, the voices are always crystal clear, instantly alive and easily recognizable. When the threads narrow to just Georgia and Detective Meylin, punctuated by brief chapters from the perspectives of other, surprising characters, the tension ramps up to a breathless, breakneck pace. Rutkoski delivers not just suspense and mystery (though she deals that in spades), but skewering, searing observations on womanhood as it intersects with violence, race and power.

There is much to love here, and though Rutkoski excels in her diverse representation, her observations on the violence women must expect and even prepare for makes this book unforgettable. Early on, Detective Meylin observes the autopsy of a female. When asked how she can tolerate such a gory scene, Rutkoski writes, “She didn’t know how to express the expectedness of sexual violence, how it felt nearly inescapable. It is so common that a warning might as well be stamped on the birth certificate of every newborn girl.” On Jolene’s disappearance, a dancer thinks, “Some girls, when they’re gone, it’s a good thing, because they either stopped stripping or found a better club. Others, you know that wherever they are, it’s worse.”

With the psychological underpinnings of Paula Hawkins, the utterly brilliant examination of femininity and womanhood of Gillian Flynn, and something wholly her own, Rutkoski has emerged as a thrilling new voice in crime fiction, a rare gem whose ability to craft suspense is matched perfectly by her keen intellect and resonant themes.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 21, 2022

Real Easy
by Marie Rutkoski

  • Publication Date: January 18, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 1250788242
  • ISBN-13: 9781250788245