Tully, an epic novel by Paullina Simons, and I first met at my high school. The cover had a tag line ‘For anyone who ever had to choose…’ and I decided that was me. I mean, I had to choose between high schools (go to my zoned school, or go to the one where my friends and first crush ended up going), so I totes knew about choices. I read it, cover to cover, in about five days — usually a good book takes a lot less, but this one is over 400 pages long. Then I bought my own tattered copy and reread it so many times I lost count.
Tully is a story about a girl from the wrong side of the tracks (literally, she lives near the railroad), who has a best friend, Jennifer, who dies during their final year of high school. Tully has grown up in a pretty messed up family and has envied Jen’s family and loves only her. To numb her pain, Tully is a dancer, has a lot of sex, kisses a lot of guys and drinks quite a bit. But, well, that mostly happens in the back story, so no spoilies.
Tully’s only goals are to be with Jennifer, and they planned to go to California for college. But Jen’s death ruins her dreams, and Tully begrudgingly works several jobs, goes through college scoring top marks and meets many men. But there’s just one guy for her — who was Jen’s dream crush. The novel begins with Tully at age 17, and ends with her at age 30, still making rubbish choices and reigning havoc over the people who love her.
Despite the fact that I think Tully is a bloody awful character — she has no character motivation, except doing stuff Jen does (to the point that she is gifted Jen’s car after her death) — I also find this book great for so many reasons.
Jack is Jen’s crush, and how I feel about him is complicated, but for some silly reason he loves Tully and comes back to Topeka to see her every summer.
Tully’s son buys into very little of Tully’s BS — at age seven he gives absolutely no flying fruits that when he was a small child he used to call Jack Uncle Oz, and even says ‘Mom, why don’t we go to Burger King and call it a day’. Boomer, you are great.
Jeremy is one of Tully’s ill-fated relationships. My fave quote as a teenager ‘he was going to be with me, and we were going to go to California’. Jeremy is a professor in his 30s and a sweetheart who now has two broken hearts instead of just one. Despite this, his love of literature helps Tully quite a bit which would be great except that after Jack, Tully doesn’t care about English Lit for much longer.
Robin has a Corvette, he is well dressed (well, he does own a men’s wear shop) and has all of his own issues. Of course, Tully doesn’t care about this at all, because, she’s Tully.
Shakie accomplishes all of the things she sets out to do, except *le sigh* being with her OTP, which is apparently Jack. She gives Tully some great advice and loves her even though Tully is pretty awful to her at times.
Millie, Tully’s housekeeper, is totally underrated in this book. She cooks great food, follows directions, gives advice and is a mother figure to Robin.
As a teenager, this book taught me that death messes people up pretty badly, but so does abandoning your family, ignoring the obvious, heaping praise on someone who is a perfectionist can be deadly and you shouldn’t rabbit on about how beautiful someone’s eyes are.
Teenage me thought Tully made a bad choice.
As an adult, I routinely found things in Tully I could relate to. Shakie’s advice: ‘Oh Tully, he will break your fucking heart.’ ‘I’m ready.’ still chills me until this very day. Tully wasn’t mean spirited, but she didn’t make any attempts to really fix her problems. And Tully and I share the same birthday, and we also go and splurge on big things for our birthdays.
Many characters and scenes could be cut out of this book. Some spoilies here:
- I don’t give two hoots about how hard Hedda had it as a child. She was awful to Tully her entire life and I didn’t need a huge back story.
- Julie. What was the point of Julie? It was the 90s, so she was the token lesbian who cared a lot about Tully and Tully didn’t care about in return.
- The big plot twist — it’s pretty twisted the things that happen in this book — babies shouldn’t ever be a plot twist, and in this case the only reason reason was to discover Tully’s affair (after many affairs previously). This results in all sorts of weird behaviour including wrecked cars, a hair cutting ritual and the two lover boys giving blood at the same time.
- Anything to do with the foster care system. These sections felt very removed from what Tully was doing in the ‘real world’ and half the time she was busy lunching with people to be worrying about work. It was nice that she wanted to make wrongs things right and give back to the world, but her speeches and lecturing colleagues was a bit too much for me.
- A fire? Oh, come on!
Despite my complaints, I like Tully a lot, and it’s one of the reason my daughter is named Natalie. Simons created some great characters and surprising story lines in this tome (I mean, how could she not, she used over 400 pages to do it), and it’s full of angst, drama, sex, fights, bantering and all sorts of things to do with haircuts.