“If you think too much about how things should be, you forget how they are.”
Megan Giddings’ debut novel Lakewood – published in 2020 – is the story of Lena, an African American millennial dealing with the passing of her grandmother and the crushing medical debt of her mother’s chronic illness. Lena receives an invitation to participate in a government research study and in exchange for her body to be experimented on, she is paid generously. From here, things get weird.
Giddings, in this cross between Margaret Atwood and the true tragic history of experimentation on people of color, addresses real issues that have taken place, not only in the United States, but around the world. Historically, black women have been experimented on, sterilized without their permission, given inadequate health care. Giddings spins these true facts into a tale of fiction as Lena navigates tremendous debt and must decide how much she values her body and sanity.
It is an unfortunate fact that black women live one of the hardest existences and Giddings brings this to the forefront in Lakewood. She uses the truth as a basis for a fictional story. This makes Lena’s journey all the more painful for readers. Giddings is doing great work addressing racial and economic inequality and the novel is compulsively readable, and a quick read at that.
“I am a thousand percent sure there are plenty of white women who think America is great to them. But America is only routinely good to women, especially black women, when it wants something from them.”
I loved Giddings’ ability to make the reader question what is true as the novel progresses, just as Lena must. The disorientation that Giddings creates lives inside the readers’ skin and keeps us racing across the pages to know more. I felt extremely satisfied with this novel until about the last 50 pages.
Where the climax typically reveals something new, interesting, and/or compelling, Giddings did none of these. The “reveal” is more than predictable, something HEAVILY hinted to throughout the entire novel. It’s hard for me to believe the “reveal” wasn’t figured out by a single reader before it is stated.
The ending falls flat for me. The resolution is lackluster and cheapens the revelational aspects that I felt the novel had for the rest of the 200 pages. If the landing had been stuck, this would have easily been a 5-star debut novel. Addressing real issues that are uncomfortable for readers to consider, this novel is crucial, and I am so glad it lives out in the world. However, the ending had greater potential and I was disappointed to see it squandered.
Lena’s story is believable, compelling, dynamic. I just wish the ending could have stuck the landing.(4 / 5)