I thank Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Velvet Morning Press for the opportunity to review Chasing Chaos. I also thank Katie for kindly giving me e-copies of the earlier books in this series–Entanglement (2015) and its prequel, Love and Entropy (2015)–so that I could read Chasing Chaos with the full impact of her characters’ histories.
And what a fascinating history it is! This series tells the story of an epic friendship, how it began, how it was tested, and how it affected the other relationships in the lives of two distinctive young women, Daphne Saito and Greta Donovan.
In Entanglement, we learn that their friendship is fed by shared losses, resulting from their acutely painful family backgrounds. We get a remarkably complete portrait of Daphne and Greta, and why they need each other so much, constructing their own sisterhood family to fill the empty places where family love, trust, and stability should have resided in their hearts. Daphne suffered sexual abuse instigated by her father, followed by emotional rejection and denial from her mother and sisters. Greta learned to be tough to cope with her mother’s long battle with leukemia and her father’s infidelity and emotional abandonment.
But those revelations will come later, after these two girls find each other, at poolside on the North Carolina campus where they both attend college. As Pryal presents it, the start of their friendship is a kind of falling in love, not sexual, but full of attraction, interest, and curiosity about the other.
Daphne is a petite, fashionably dressed girl of Japanese heritage, aware of her exquisite beauty. Greta is tall and athletic, physically graceful but awkwardly self-conscious about her size. Daphne notices the adept “swimming girl” and begins to count the laps she is making across the length of the pool. Her boyfriend Sutton gives us his impression of the girl who has captured Daphne’s attention so completely, “ugly, with a big nose and frizzy hair and a blockish body,” but under Daphne’s discerning gaze, she, and we as readers, see her striking presence and unusual beauty:
But Sutton would be wrong. The girl was not ugly. She was immensely tall, but she was long and lean, with basically zero body fat and well-shaped legs. Her eyes were a remarkable shade of green, and her hair, if conditioned properly, would form delightful curls.
The swimmer finishes her laps and makes her way toward the exit of the pool area, but Daphne corners her at the gate, determined to know this intriguing girl she has seen from a distance on campus. Daphne introduces herself, and Greta, without much choice in the matter, reciprocates, and stops to appraise this enthusiastic new acquaintance. We see her through Greta’s eyes.
Daphne was wearing a tiny black bikini and enormous sunglasses that covered half her face. Her straight black hair was artfully cut to hang in shaggy pieces to her shoulders. She smiled broadly, her full lips stretching to reveal large, perfect teeth. She was stunning. Daphne’s beauty made Greta want to flee even more.
But she did not flee. Daphne’s magnetism drew her back to sit by the pool and begin a real conversation. Greta, a physics major who typically spoke unadorned truths, must have wondered what could be brewing in the mind of this fashionable girl who was so anxious to chat. She was surprised by Daphne’s smart responses to simple questions, her original trains of thought:
‘I like swimming in the ocean too,’ Daphne said. ‘You’d think it might get old after living there your whole life, but it doesn’t. Every time, it’s a little bit scary because it’s so big . For me, I think it’s scary because the water connects to everything. Every part of the world is touching the ocean.’ She laughed. ‘You could say that the scope of it is overwhelming. But at the same time, that overwhelmingness is exactly what comforts me.’
Like Daphne, Pryal brings some surprising concepts right into the heart of her story, to reveal crucial aspects of her characters’ emotional experience. First, there is entropy, the physical law that disorder tends to increase in the universe; in life, it suggests those times when everything seems to reel out of control and go seriously awry! Her prequel novella Love and Entropy flashes back to a particularly disturbing incident that happened that first summer when Greta and Daphne knew each other and became inseparable. Second, there is chaos, described by the famous example of the butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, setting up a minute breeze that gathers force and eventually triggers a hurricane thousands of miles away. In these novels, chaos intrudes when small decisions and actions lead to major consequences down the road, big effects that seemingly could have been avoided. In Chasing Chaos, Daphne will be especially haunted by her own actions and her belief that she is responsible for a chain reaction of disaster and tragedy.
The story’s Prologue finds her in a hospital, on the surgical floor, waiting for news.
It could take hours before she knew whether she’d caused the death of someone close to her.
Whether tonight she’d set in motion the dangerous actions that had put two people in the hospital and one person in an operating room fighting for life.
She couldn’t stand herself. Self-blame nearly suffocated her.
The rest of the novel flashes back to all that led up to this critical moment.
Greta and Daphne are still living in Los Angeles, where they moved after college, both of them wanting to put lots of geography between them and their families. They had each other, and with their talents and a bit of luck, both found opportunities in L. A. that suited them. Daphne worked in a production company, but was still an aspiring screenwriter, working hard on her scripts every evening. Greta put her knowledge of physics and electronics to use as a lighting designer. No one was more surprised than Greta that this job led to romance with her boss, Timmy. When Greta fell in love, very cautiously at first, the delicate balance of the friends’ mutual support was upset, and Daphne suffered the worst of it. Daphne felt seriously displaced, triggering her deepest wounds, and Greta felt torn between two people who each wanted to rank first in her life. Tempers flared, and one rash action led to another, until a crisis came, endangering Greta’s life. That’s where Entanglement left their story.
In Chasing Chaos, it is five years later, and life is advancing on all fronts. Daphne is now a successful screenwriter, and living more comfortably, it seems, setting her own schedule and choosing her freelance work. She has a boyfriend Dan, with whom she often collaborates, but she is restless and serially unfaithful during their relationship. She decides to break it off with him rather abruptly, and she doubts that she is meant to find real love, or that she even deserves to. Meanwhile, Greta and Timmy have been running their thriving lighting production business and growing closer and stronger in their love. Greta recovered from her brush with death at the home of a friend she met through Daphne, a semi-retired film star of some magnitude, named Sandy. Sandy’s home is a gathering place for his circle of carefully chosen and dependable friends–Greta, Timmy, and Daphne chief among them. So it is natural that, when Timmy proposes marriage (for the umpteenth time?) and Greta startles him by accepting, their wedding should take place at Sandy’s house and Daphne should be in charge of planning it. But she only has five days to do it. Sandy’s handyman, Marlon, who is much more like an adopted son to him, helps Daphne pull off a miracle of last-minute wedding creation. Daphne and Marlon find themselves drawn to each other on all levels–irresistibly fascinated and also caring deeply for each other–and Daphne dares to hope that love and happiness might be available to her too, in spite of everything. But then chaos starts happening all over again… It will take all the resources of friendship to convince her that she is not at the vortex of every storm. But will it be too late?
I read all three installments in the Entanglement Series in rapid succession, and when I was away from them, I found myself actually worrying about its two heroines, Daphne and Greta. What would happen to them? Would they be okay? Katie Rose Guest Pryal has worked that subtle magic by which we begin to care very much for the fictional lives unfolding word by word.
If you read Pryal’s very impressive bio, you can see that she has tremendous experience teaching writing, but here in her first full-length series of novels, she really delivers with beautiful pacing and structure, and smart, memorable dialogue. I can highly recommend all these books, in which the lives of these characters are seasoned by more than enough dramatic action. Chasing Chaos is Daphne’s story; she faces the longest road back from a chaotic childhood, and must work hardest to find herself. To understand Greta more fully, I also warmly recommend Entanglement, where Daphne and Greta find each other.
CHASING CHAOS takes place 5 years after the end of ENTANGLEMENT.
Daphne Saito, a beautiful and talented Hollywood screenwriter, might look like she has the perfect life, but on the inside she’s lost. She’s wandered from one meaningless relationship to the next—and now, just as she breaks up with her longtime boyfriend, Dan—she finds herself facing someone new, someone she could fall in love with. But Daphne, still traumatized by an accident involving her best friend, Greta, five years earlier, is afraid to love. Harm has always come to those close to her.
Over five life-changing days, Daphne lets her guard down and steps toward this new love. But trouble is never far behind. Dan, angry at Daphne’s departure, has targeted an innocent young woman, someone close to Daphne’s new love, as part of a plan for revenge. And an enigmatic woman from Daphne’s past returns with revenge plans of her own. Danger is on the horizon for all of Daphne’s friends—and for her.
About the Author
(Adapted from her page at Tall Poppy Writers)
Katie Rose Guest Pryal enjoys her three professions—novelist, freelance journalist, and lawyer—for one reason: her love of the written word. Fiction or nonfiction, Katie thrives on putting thoughts to paper and sharing them with the world. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the energy of the campus and cafes inspires her writing. She is the author of the Entanglement Series: ENTANGLEMENT (2015), LOVE AND ENTROPY (2015), and CHASING CHAOS (2016), all published by Velvet Morning Press. She is also a contributor to the anthology CHRISTMAS, ACTUALLY (VMP 2015).
You can grab a free copy of Katie’s novelette, NICE WHEELS, and her writing guide, WRITING ISN’T SEXY, by subscribing to her newsletter.
Katie contributes regularly to QUARTZ, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, THE TOAST, DAME MAGAZINE and other national venues, including THE HUFFINGTON POST, where she writes a monthly column on writing. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where she attended on a fellowship.
Katie has published many books on writing, the most recent with Oxford University Press. A professor of writing for more than a decade, she now works as a writing coach and developmental editor and teaches creative writing at Duke University when she’s not writing her next book.
*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.