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E. Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud didn’t work for me. Or, I didn’t very much like it. Marketed as a mystery suspense, Genuine Fraud is a story told in reverse chronological order about two young women. Neither garnered any empathy from me as a reader. And, because it’s told in reverse order, it was neither suspenseful nor much of a mystery.
The first chapter had me hooked. I wanted to know more about Jule, was on her side and ready for her to escape from whatever she had gotten herself into. I could easily look past the florid descriptions that didn’t help me picture the characters any better as I rushed through them because I liked the writing style. The sentences made for a quick pace and easy reading.
Once I realized the order was reversed, things because overly confusing. And the more I read, the less I liked Jule. I knew before it was revealed that she had committed some pretty terrible crimes so there was no surprise, no suspense. The mixed order gave little reason behind why Jule did what she did. Or, not enough for me to empathize with her. Instead, I was disgusted by her. Not the best way to create a character. Unforgettable, sure. But not in the way I’m sure the author wanted.
However, it was an instant New York Times Bestseller and will, apparently, be turned into a movie. Something about it works for the fans who enjoy E. Lockhart’s style. That gives me reason to analyze it. To see what works, what doesn’t, and why.
Oh, and here’s your warning: Spoilers Ahead. Proceed with caution.
1. What is the Global Genre?
Genuine Fraud is a long form, arch-plot, realistic, drama that turns on justice and injustice. Thus, it falls into the crime category of Shawn Coyne’s external content genres. I, personally, didn’t see an internal genre play out throughout the novel. Jule is the same person from the beginning to the end whether you look at it from beginning to end chronologically or not. I suppose, if anything, she becomes less moral and has a higher status, but I think that she ultimately would have done that no matter what the circumstances at any point. Jule, herself, might think she’s stronger and better by the end, and perhaps in a way she is, but I don’t see much of an internal change overall.
You could also make the argument that the story turns on financial freedom. Jule moves from being poor and incapable of surviving to having cheated and murdered her way to the top. She is capable of anything and will survive despite the odds stacked up against her. Personally, I think the crime analysis fits better because the final twist is that Imogen, despite having been killed, is the one blamed for all the crimes that were committed. Thus, Jule gets away with what she’s done.
2. What are the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes?
- Inciting Crime: The Sokoloff’s pay Jule, who they think is someone else, to look after their daughter who has run away.
- Speech in Praise of the Villain: Jule praises herself constantly, talking about how much she’s learned and how she can take care of herself.
- Discovering the Villain’s desire: the audience discovers Jule has been committing crimes to take over Imogen’s life and money.
- Exposure of the Criminal: Noa tells Jule she knows she’s Imogen.
- Jule escapes.
- A MacGuffin (villain’s object of desire): Jule wants Imogen’s life and money.
- Investigative Red Herrings: Jule being the “narrator” in a way leads the audience to believe she’s telling the truth and is innocent.
- Making it Personal: Jule starts to believe Imogen really loves her.
- Clock: the book works in reverse chronological order leading up to the start of the story.
3. What it the POV/Narrative Device?
What’s interesting about this story is that it primarily follows Jule, who plays the hero, victim, and villain at different stages in the story. Sort of a simplistic version of Fight Club in a way. As the story unfolds, we learn that Jule is not the innocent girl she has set herself up to be. Instead, she’s tricked herself into believing that she’s the hero of the story and has had to learn to survive despite the odds stacked up against her.
The narrative device is that the story is told in reverse chronological order. We start off with Jule on the run from a woman who has discovered who she is. As we work backwards in time, we find out that Jule is not only not innocent, but she’s murdered to get what she wants. Finally, we see that, not only has she gotten away with it, but the investigator believes that she is one of the girls she’s murdered and that Jule was her victim. The ultimate injustice for the memory of Imogen.
As I said earlier, this didn’t work for me. Structurally, it places the climax at the correct point in the novel. But, I think the book loses a level of suspense and character empathy from the narrative device.
4. What are the Objects of Desire?
Jule wants money. She wants respect, status, and power. And she’ll do anything to get it. Because there isn’t an internal shift, I don’t think she has a need or realizes one.
5. What is the Controlling Idea/Theme?
Tyranny reigns when the perpetrator outwits the investigator, overcomes her status, and embraces her strengths to corrupt the system.
6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?
I’m going to look at this chronologically because I think that, as a writer, you have to know the “correct” order before you can turn things on their head.
Jule is at a hotel in Mexico on the run from a woman who knows who she is and we slowly find out that she came from a poor background and decided to help the Sokoloff’s track down their lost daughter.
Jule starts to imbed herself into Imogen’s life and take over her personality, but things get tricky when Imogen pulls away from her and Jule kills her.
Forrest, Imogen’s ex, doesn’t believe Imogen killed herself so he sends investigators to Mexico where Imogen’s credit cards have been used and Jule discovers that they believe Imogen has killed Jule.