Thomas Hardy/Manitou Messenger

While scrolling through my Instagram feed on a lazy summer afternoon, a sponsored advertisement stopped me in my tracks. There on my screen was a photo of a girl by her poolside flipping through a thick book. The cover of the model’s summer read was pretty – a bright blue backdrop against a unique font that read “Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky.” My eyes focused below the picture to the caption that read, “I didn’t think, the day I kissed my professor for the first time, that he would kiss me back.” I was instantly hooked.

“Very Nice” by Marcy Dermansky checked off all of the boxes my raunchy summer reading wishlist could have asked for. The characters were compelling, relatable and unique and the plot fulfilled my striking and dramatic expectations.

Rachel has just finished her sophomore year at a liberal arts college in New York City. She prepares to spend her summer working as a camp counselor in her hometown in the upper class suburbs of Connecticut, but is tasked with dog-sitting for her beautiful creative writing professor Zahid while he visits family in Pakistan.

When Zahid returns earlier than expected, he decides to go up to Connecticut to reclaim his poodle. Upon his arrival, he meets Becca, Rachel’s soon-to-be-divorced mother, and their chemistry is palpable. Purely on impulse after an unbearably lonely and stressful year, Becca invites him to stay at their house for the summer.

Thus, the drama unwinds in an awkward love triangle Zahid finds himself at the center of, battling his growing feelings for Becca and his inappropriate history with her daughter.
The novel cycles through different narrators, so each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective. You get insight to the nuances of each person’s thought process, and although the situations the characters find themselves in are sometimes unlikely and unrealistic, how they react to their far-fetched circumstances remains authentic and human.

You watch Rachel overthink every interaction with Zahid. Every glance, every word, every gesture is an excuse for her to justify constant streams of insecurities in the way people do when faced with an unrequited crush. You relate to Rachel. We have all been Rachel – methodical, insecure, wanting to be wanted.

Becca is faced with loneliness. Her husband had an affair and moved in with his mistress. When Zahid enters her life, he represents hope, but she is not blind to how her daughter looks at him. You relate to Becca. We have all been Becca – wishing to be happy but finding that happiness to be at the expense of someone else’s.

“Very Nice” is about people making bad choices for selfish reasons. I was left at the edge of my seat wanting to know how each character would interact in their uncomfortable situations. Every time someone voiced their concerns, I was able to understand and empathize because of how relatable their trains of thought were. We are all at some point selfish people making bad choices, so I finished “Very Nice” feeling a little less alone.

nizhny1@stolaf.edu