Book Review: SPIN by Catherine McKenzie

Can we talk for a minute about the terms “chick lit” and “fluff”? I find my irritation feelers raising whenever I hear those words attributed to books. The implied dismissiveness suggests that any story that is light and has any element of romance, and is also written by woman, is not worth taking seriously. Reasonable, smart people should call this what it is: bullshit.

There are plenty of subjectively “bad” books out there, but it is because they are poorly-written and perhaps shallow. There’s a difference between being light and being shallow, and good stories are good stories. Still, I will admit being unfairly prejudiced when it comes to books whose covers make me think they will be some sort of Sex in the City rip-off, or anything implying a lot of lipstick and shoes. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that’s not exactly my bag. (In fact, my only bag is canvas and is starting to get a hole in the bottom, and my husband owns more bags than I do. But I digress.)

So would I have taken a chance on Catherine McKenzie’s Spin had its cover been what we’ve been conditioned to see as “fluffy”? I go on about making an effort, about being fair, about chucking labels, etc., etc. – but I cannot say for certain. Maybe the cover designers for Spin knew this, and so we see a woman semi-collapsed on the bed, with the question, “How far would you go to get what you’ve always wanted?” below her smushed pillow. Ah, I see what you’ve done there, piquing my interest with questions of sacrifice. Well done, you lot.

Spin is cute, yes, and nicely satisfying in a not-totally-insulting romantic comedy way, even though this is a story more about addiction than wanting to make out with someone. It’s about all relationships a person can have, and how a person’s behavior affects those relationships. In it, Kate Sandford celebrates landing an interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line, by getting absolutely falling-down-passed-out-drunk, something she’s really good at doing – often. She turns up to the interview, late and still boozy, and verbally stumbles around before having to puke in the office bathroom. Of course, she does not get the job.

Then, a gossip rag owned by the same company who owns The Line has caught wind of what rehab facility “it girl” actress Amber Sheppard just checked into, and they’d love to get the scoop. The place is locked down, so how do they get someone in? Perhaps they need a promising writer who could use some rehab herself?

Yes, they call Kate, and if Kate agrees to check herself into rehab, befriend/spy on Amber, and write a totally kick-ass exposé, she might have a chance at The Line after all. Kate insists that she doesn’t reallyhave a problem, but she is willing to “pretend” in order to get her dream job.

Have you ever tried to cut down on your drinking? Yes. Wait a minute. Maybe that’s the wrong answer. Didn’t I talk about this with Dr. Houston too? Why the hell is he making me answer all these questions again? How am I supposed to keep all these details straight? I hate this fucking questionnaire. Yes. No. Do all of your friends drink alcohol on a regular basis? Yes. I bloody well hope so.


I like that McKenzie is not afraid to swear, despite the overall chaste tone of the book. That’s a funny word – chaste – to use in a book about rehab, however true. Any sort of frisky business mentioned takes place off-stage, for the most part. Still, this isn’t a book overly concerned with appearing “good” in all behavior, which is a trap similar books sometimes fall into.

It might be sad that, while reading, I had thoughts of rehab being a nice vacation. Give me the good sleeping pills and let’s sort out my problems, yes. But I’m not of sound mind and body all of the time, we know. Otherwise, Kate’s a bit of “Oh, honey, no,” case, and her friends know it. That we also care about her getting her shit together speaks a lot to McKenzie’s skill at writing her. The 400+ pages fly. I read almost 300 pages in one evening, but then, like, Kate, I have sleeping problems.

Because Kate is a big music fan, there are plenty of specific references, though I had a hard time getting a read on what sort of music magazine The Line must be if someone who loves Sara Bareillis, Plain White T’s, David Gray, and Coldplay would want to write for them. Maybe my impressions of music magazines don’t skew so Top 40, but then again, I also haven’t read Rolling Stone in a long time, and we know what their covers have been like in the past decade. I did like that there was a playlist in the back of the book of all the songs mentioned. It’s a mix of stuff that is, overall, not really my taste, but there are some gems in there. She mentions some classics from David Bowie, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan, and it’s hard to go wrong with them, but then the playlist also has more recent (well, a song from 2001) Ryan Adams, “When the Stars Go Blue.” As someone who sometimes writes with a heavy musical influence, it’s nice to see a writer just straight up own it.

While Spin isn’t my usual literary neck of the woods, I’m glad I read it. It made for a nice palate cleanser after the heavier material I’d read before it. One cannot be saddled with doom and despair all of the time. Or rather, one must be able to laugh at their own despair and learn how to move on.


Full disclosure: William Morrow sent me this book. I thank them for the gesture and will continue to be fair with my reviews.


This review is part of Pajiba“˜s Cannonball Read IV, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I’m taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the “Half Cannonball” distinction by the end of 2012.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

6 replies on “Book Review: SPIN by Catherine McKenzie”

Yeah, there’s a minor character who is a bit of a jerk, but he’s not involved with the main character. Which, yes, it’s nice to see that in lighter reads. I noticed that Target was carrying the book now, so it must be doing fairly well. I think it came out in Canada first and did well there, so there was a deal picked up here.

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