Complicit by Winnie M Li
8/16/22; 416 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Complicit by Winnie M Li is a highly recommended literary fiction novel and an inside examination of the MeToo movement.
Sarah Lai is currently teaching screenplay writing at community college, but she always loved movies and dreamed of a successful job in the movie industry. Ten years earlier, she was thrilled to have a chance to get her foot in the door as an unpaid intern at Firefly Films with the founder Sylvia Zimmerman. Sarah impresses Sylvia with her hard work and dedication so she officially hired by the production company. Up-and-coming writer and director Xander Schulz is working on a script for his first feature film and Sarah will be the assistant producer on it. When the film is shown at Cannes, British billionaire Hugo North is impressed. He backs the company, rebranding Firefly as Conquest. Xander's next movie is going to be filmed in Los Angeles and will be the break-out film for famous actor Holly Randolph.
When Sarah is contacted by New York Times writer Thom Gallagher who wants to interview her, she is reluctant to tell her story from year ago, but agrees to do so, if only to set the record straight about the abuse of power by Hugo that ended her career. She is also questioning if her actions were somehow complicit in perpetuating the exploitation.
The narrative mainly consists of Sarah telling her story to Thom
with some excerpts from present day interviews of other people
Thom is talking to randomly mixed into the story. Thom is an
investigative reporter, so he is talking to several people from
Hugo's past. He may ask a few questions, but most of the novel is
Sarah telling her story as well as the shorter interviews of
others telling their story or trying to hide it. There are other
themes beyond the exploitation of woman which include the
experiences of immigrant Americans and family dynamics.
The quality of the writing is excellent, which is what pulled me
into Sarah's story, elements of which can be found in the story of
the lives of many women. The actual idea of complicity is
introduce, but not explored deeply at a personal level, although
it is clearly described in the atmosphere surrounding the film
industry and wealthy and powerful men. Perhaps pointing it out and
allowing Sarah to feel guilt over something that was basically
beyond her control is enough. The whole industry is culturally
skewed toward exploitation and the objectification of women.
Sarah is a complicated woman and an unforgettable character in many ways. The novel is really about Sarah's life. Complicit is Sarah's ode to her passion for movies, as well as a brush with fame before she is forced to face cold hard reality. All the characters are basically filtered through Sarah's point-of-view, with Thom's interviews adding a twist to them. It is also the story of many Chinese-Americans in many of the details her family and life. Admittedly, while I found it interesting, there could have been some paring down of details from Sarah's early love of movies and her initial years with Firefly.