I got wind of this novel through Stephen King’s Facebook feed. He wrote: “That book-blurb saying “I couldn’t put it down” is usually bullshit, right? For me it was true of Anna Pitoniak’s NECESSARY PEOPLE. I literally couldn’t stop reading. Murder, ambition, toxic friendship. What’s not to like?” In my book, if Mr King says it’s good, it is going to be bloody good, and he was right.
I finished the last 40 pages yesterday in Geylang East Library and when I hit the final paragraph I almost wanted to read it ever so slowly because I knew the sublime experience is going to be over soon. When I did finally finish it, I turned to my wifey next to me (she was reading Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel) and let out a cry of satisfaction laden with a couple of much deserved expletives. This is one of my favourites this year.
Stella and Violet are best friends, and from the moment they met in college, they knew their roles. Beautiful, privileged, and reckless Stella lives in the spotlight. Hardworking, laser-focused Violet stays behind the scenes, always ready to clean up the mess that Stella inevitably leaves in her wake.
After graduation, Violet moves to New York and lands a job in cable news, where she works her way up from intern to assistant to producer, and to a life where she’s finally free from Stella’s shadow. In this fast-paced world, Violet thrives, and her ambitions grow — but everything is jeopardized when Stella, envious of Violet’s new life, uses her connections, beauty, and charisma to get hired at the same network. Stella soon moves in front of the camera, becoming the public face of the stories that Violet has worked tirelessly to produce — and taking all the credit.
The first half felt awfully familiar, like some toxic teenage female friendship that happens a dime in a dozen on TV land, but Pitoniak’s evocative flair makes the whole thing smell like a bed of roses. I love how she skewers the rich in some of the scenarios that sickened me to the stomach, like treating Violet as a hybrid slave. On the surface it feels like normal behaviour, but underneath it reeks of the stink of elitist behaviour. Their Patek Philippes and Cartier diamonds are the apotheosis of the material world, and their behaviour will turn your insides out.
A couple of evenings ago, we caught Ready or Not at the cinema. It is a clever variation on “the last girl” trope in the survival genre. We had a blast laughing at the absurdity of the rich, but the movie couldn’t quite embed the “rich versus poor” subtext well, but Anna Pitoniak’s Necessary People has this aspect in spades and she nails it all – the larger-than-life personalities, the high drama and the fierce competition, everything hits the mark.
I enjoyed reading the stressful atmosphere of the newsroom so much so that I suggested to my wifey to check out HBO’s The Newsroom, once we are done with Mindhunter.
The centre of it all is the toxic relationship between Stella and Violet. It is a symbiotic relationship based on a push-pull dynamic. It works until it doesn’t, and when it takes a crazy turn, everything goes to hell. I will admit there were some times I wanted to scream at Violet for making the wrong choices, and I have to say they aren’t illogical. Thankfully, Violet isn’t portrayed as a saint, born on this world to serve Stella; she is her own woman. I want to say more, but this is the point I need to shut my trap.
If this gets optioned to be made as a film, I am sure every up-and-coming young actress will be eyeing the role of Violet Trapp. It is a career-defining role and I think real will clash with reel life because they will have to fight tooth and nail to get it. The role should go to the one who is ambitious enough to be selfish and cruel. That’s who should get it.
**** / 5