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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

I Have Some Questions for You

Rebecca Makkai

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To purchase I Have Some Questions for You

Title: I Have Some Questions for You
Author: Rebecca Makkai
Genre: Novel
Written: 2023
Length: 435 pages
Availability: I Have Some Questions for You - US
I Have Some Questions for You - UK
I Have Some Questions for You - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B : very contemporary (in every sense) and solid murder-mystery variation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 4/3/2023 .
Financial Times A 10/2/2023 Lucy Scholes
The Guardian . 17/2/2023 Laura Wilson
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 20/2/2023 Hamilton Cain
The New Yorker . 27/2/2023 Katy Waldman
Wall St. Journal . 17/2/2023 Tom Nolan
The Washington Post . 24/2/2023 Ron Charles

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ms Makkai makes clear how her protagonist’s life has been shaped by men’s nasty behaviour. (...) This novel lacks the emotional punch of Ms Makkai’s previous book, The Great Believers (published in 2018), which charted the history of the aids epidemic of the 1980s. Instead, it is at once a propulsive crime story and a thought-provoking meditation on sex, race and the abuse of power." - The Economist

  • "This is a novel that combines the smarts of literary fiction with the thrills of a whodunnit, topped with all the divertissements of the best boarding school-set dramas. (...) I Have Some Questions for You speaks loudly to the moment, but nothing about it feels faddy. Makkai is an exciting and talented storyteller, and this novel is a triumph." - Lucy Scholes, Financial Times

  • "Makkai places her fictional murder firmly in the context of violence against women, cancel culture and our obsession with true crime. (...) Makkai doesn’t shy away from moral complication in this impressive and complex novel." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "A New Hampshire boarding school in winter, snow-marbled; an unsolved mystery; the shadows of dark academia -- all weave together in a spellbinding work that underscores how we’re constrained within the bubbles of our biases. (...) I Have Some Questions for You is unabashedly Makkai’s #MeToo novel, brimming with mordant wit, alluding to high-profile predators and a controversial list of male media offenders. (...) Makkai’s strategy -- pegging social justice onto the frame of a thriller - doesn’t always hold together; her detours into preachy op-ed-speak disrupt the tempo. I Have Some Questions for You slows, speeds up, slows again. But gradually the beauty of the novel’s structure reveals itself (.....) I Have Some Questions for You lacks the richer hues of this author’s earlier books, but it’s whip-smart, uncompromising and (mostly) a pleasure to read." - Hamilton Cain, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The new book, a murder mystery set at an élite boarding school, is being marketed as an irresistible whodunnit. But it also joins a growing number of critiques of true crime, with Makkai charging the genre on three counts: exploiting real people for entertainment, chasing gore rather than studying systemic problems, and objectifying victims, most of whom are pretty, white, rich, and “young, as we prefer our sacrificial lambs.” (...) Makkai sharply conveys the insidiousness of misogyny. But, in blurring the line between dead-girl stories and shitty-man stories, she raises a tricky question: Should the tropes of #MeToo receive the same scrutiny as those of true crime ?" - Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

  • "(T)his is a story that constantly casts our attention to the outer world. The shameful behavior in the school's past resonates clearly with the #MeToo accusations that Bodie keeps reading about on social media, along with stories of President Trump lashing out at his female accusers. But Makkai is pursuing something more complicated than a general survey of men behaving badly. Bodie wonders about her own culpability. She questions the validity of the Court of Twitter, where every accusation is its own incontestable proof and every example of boorish behavior is the moral equivalent of rape. In such a feverish atmosphere, compounded by the ubiquity of actual sexual violence, Bodie finds herself struggling to remember what really happened and what it meant. Through this complicated story of historical reclamation and present-day reckoning, Makkai explores the way the mistreatment of women and girls is repressed, mythologized and transmuted into lurid gossip and entertainment." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I Have Some Questions for You basically begins with narrator Elizabeth 'Bodie' Kane returning to Granby, the New Hampshire boarding school where the Indiana girl spent her high school years. It's January 2018, almost twenty-three years after she graduated, and she's been invited to teach a two-week course there -- and she actually takes on two: one on podcasting (Bodie has her own "lauded podcast", Starlet Fever, "a serial history of women in film -- the ways the industry chewed them up and spat them out") and one on film studies.
       Granby holds some strong memories for Bodie, not least because three of her classmates died senior year: two in a car accident, and Thalia Keith, Bodie's roommate, who was murdered. (She and Thalia were friendly but not particularly close, despite being roommates.) They caught and convicted Omar Evans, the twenty-five-year-old head athletic trainer at Granby, of the crime, but it's clear that neither the police investigation nor his defense lawyer put all that much effort into the case and investigation; he did confess -- after lengthy interrogation -- but quickly recanted that confession. Admittedly, the facts -- to the extent that the authorities gathered them -- made him an obvious suspect -- not least because:

(H)is only alibi is that he was alone in the same building where she died, at the time she died. Which is not an alibi. That's the opposite of an alibi.
       The story was big national news in the day, complete with a Dateline-episode dedicated to it, and interest still hasn't completely died down. Unsurprisingly, Bodie finds herself drawn back into what happened back then -- not least because when she assigns her students to pick subjects for their own podcasts it's a natural fit.
       Bodie already came to Granby as a teen with a whole lot of baggage, a family situation that anyone would have difficulty dealing with. Just how deep all that sat then, and all these years after, is suggested, for example, by her observation:
     The dosage of my antidepressant is such that I haven't cried actual tears in a decade, but there are times when I want so badly to cry that I make all the noises of crying, press my fists into my eyes so I feel something similar.
       She has done quite well for herself in adulthood, what with the successful podcasting and two young children, but her marriage is over except for the formalities -- though husband Jerome, a successful artist still lives (conveniently) next door, and they get along well enough. Still, things fall further apart during her Granby-stay: Jerome gets himself cancelled in that contemporary way -- and as internet-savvy as Bodie is, she still manages to also back herself into an uncomfortable corner and suffers some in the fallout of this no-win situation:
     My first instinct was to explain myself, but there was no way that didn't make everything worse. Apology would make it worse, too, for everyone involved; I knew how the internet worked.
       One reason she's happy to travel to the East Coast from her Los Angeles home is to be closer to the man she's been having a satisfying intimate relationship with -- but that too doesn't continue in the way she hoped. But at least she has some old friends, the old environment (and all the memories it holds -- so many memories), and the eager young students to keep her occupied. But dominating everything else is the rabbit cum black hole of the old Thalia Keith-case that she tumbles -- or throws herself -- into:
     By three a.m., unable to close my eyes, I was looking at timelines on Reddit. Reading everything I could about the details and circumstances of Thalia's death no longer felt like a trapdoor to anxiety; it felt more like the single rope on hand as every life raft around me sank. If holding on meant staying up till the sky lightened, so be it.
       Occasionally, Bodie switches to the second person in her account, addressing a music teacher from her time at Granby, Denny Bloch. Especially in retrospect, she now sees that he was kind of iffy -- that there was a predatory edge to him in his interactions with her though it never really went anywhere. Bodie also suspects that Bloch, then in his early thirties, was more closely involved with Thalia -- and comes to think that he made a much better murder-suspect in this case.
       The Bloch-angle -- and Bodie's husband Jerome's own blast-from-the-past situation that suddenly explodes in the present -- bring the MeToo movement to the fore, and it's a significant component of the novel. It couples, too, with another main theme of the novel, the (re)examination of (true-)crime stories -- generally with women as the victims. Several times, Bodie simply offers what's practically a litany of examples, variations on the theme with no names attached because they are so terribly common and commonplace. The final piece then is our fascination with all this, and the new way(s) much of this is treated -- on the internet, and through podcasts (with the Thalia-case already getting the treatment in the earlier TV-age variation, on the now hopelessly outdated Dateline).
       The podcasting students, Bodie's own work, and a podcaster who has dedicated hiself to all things Thalia's murder offer three variations on the genre -- and, eventually, add up to and open a big can of worms.
       I Have Some Questions for You is presented in two parts, the first covering Bodie's short stay at Granby in 2018, with Bodie having just opened that can as she departs (noting there: "I had no idea what I'd done"). The story picks up in the second part four years later, when the fallout has finally come to a head, with Bodie back at Granby and the Thalia-murder case now entirely front and center (much to the dismay of Thalia's family, almost all of whom prefer the simple closure of having Omar behind bars).
       The second part of the novel is half courtroom drama - with Bodie, ironically, never actually getting into the courtroom -- and half a continuation of the murder mystery, the question of whodunnit. Helped by the fact that the police, back in the day, really did not do a good job of it, some new layers get peeled away and things suddenly look a bit different, with other very viable murder suspects emerging. All along the way, Bodie has been imagining how (and why) various other characters, from classmates to Bloch, could have committed the crime; by the end, there's only one obvious one left standing. As to justice being served .....
       Makkai neatly weaves a great deal into her novel, not least questions of reputation and the use(s) of the internet to question and spotlight behavior (mainly, in this case, men mistreating, in various ways, women, especially in abusing their positions (as older and/or more powerful figures)). I Have Some Questions for You also highlights how we find and exchange information in these times -- almost comically so in the second part of the novel, where there are clear delineations as to who is allowed to communicate with whom, and about what (and how easily all this gets fudged). Bodie is constantly connecting, in person as well via phone, text, or to information on the internet -- with her film studies class slipping in the hint how easily the presentation of information can be, in various ways, manipulated. (It's also noteworthy throughout how selectively and precisely Bodie and the rest of the characters pass on information -- from what people said (and didn't say) to the police, back in the day, to a great deal in the present; whether in court or on the podcasts, information is also packaged in specific ways, with significant parts always left out.)
       I Have Some Questions for You is a solid murder mystery, and for all the uncertainties of memory -- another theme of the novel, with Bodie constantly having to reässess her memories of her teenage experiences --, Makkai manages to satisfyingly fill in the blanks, offering reasonable clarity as to what actually happened to Thalia. Touching on some hot-button issues, Makkai poses some interesting questions in a novel that is very much of the moment, subject-, technology- and entertainment-wise.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 February 2023

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I Have Some Questions for You: Reviews: Rebecca Makkai: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Rebecca Makkai was born in 1978.

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© 2023 the complete review

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