December 5, 2017 by readingoutside
I have to preface this review by saying: this is not the sort of book I normally pick up. The cover features a review by Lisa Moore, and I absolutely did not like her book February. But the premise of The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes was enough to get me interested. I wound up reading it to the end, and I was surprised by how much I got out of the story.
Wanda Jaynes is an interesting heroine, being neither particularly likeable nor particularly unlikeable when the book opens. She’s living in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in a dead-end job, which is soon ending due to budget cuts. She has a boyfriend who’s okay, but not particularly great, and she doesn’t have a lot of interests or hobbies. Reading between the lines, it’s clear Wanda is depressed, but is stuck in such a rut that neither she nor anyone around her notices. In fact, few people notice her, period. Until the day she walks into a grocery store and a shooter starts going on a rampage, and Wanda manages to stop him by throwing a can of coconut milk at his head.
This is where the story takes an interesting turn, because the video of Wanda stopping the shooter goes viral. She becomes a huge sensation both worldwide and at home. Two narrative themes play out after the this event:
1) The effects of mass shootings on the people who experience them. Wanda suffers from what is clearly post-traumatic stress disorder, and no one seems to know how to help her. The author writes in a very immediate tense: Wanda picks up the phone. Wanda bites her nails. Wanda lies down and wants to sleep forever. This helps draw the reader into her mind and body, making them feel what she is going through. And while I was reading this, there were at least two horrific mass shootings in the U.S., which made the story feel even more immediate. What often gets lost during these events are the long-term effects on the individuals who experience them.
2) The experience of becoming an unintentional overnight hero. People claim to adore Wanda because she stops the killer. People think they know her. They don’t. They like the idea of her, and what she represents. But they place their own thoughts and feelings on the person in the YouTube video, while Wanda herself is a broken mess inside. There is a particularly poignant scene where Wanda realizes she has become an Internet meme just when she feels at her worst, that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
This is a story that I think will resonate with a lot of people. It’s a novel that focuses inward, as the reader imagines her- or himself in Wanda’s position, having survived a terrifying ordeal. After the events in the grocery story, not a lot happens other than in Wanda’s head. Everyone around her reveals their true selves in a variety of ways, and it is Wanda’s growth during her own personal grief that makes the story worth reading.