'She Regrets Nothing' Author Andrea Dunlop Is A Deliciously Entertaining Novel About The Dark Side Of Wealth
Imagine this: at your mother's funeral, you are approached by three of the most glamorous humans you have ever laid eyes on. They radiate so much class, wealth, and charm that you hardly believe them when they tell you that they are your family — a family you didn't even know you had. They are there to offer you an opportunity of a lifetime: to leave your sad orphanhood in the Midwest behind, and claim your rightful place in the glamorous world of New York City's high society. What would you do to hold on to your newfound life and wealth? That's the question at the heart of Andrea Dunlop's She Regrets Nothing.
It may be decked out in millennial pink on the outside, but the novel, out now from Atria, holds a lot of darkness between its bright covers. On the surface, this deliciously entertaining novel is a spellbinding story of one young woman's struggle to find, and keep, her place among the ranks of one of New York's richest families — her family. But underneath the glamorous family saga — where heart-to-hearts happen at Bergdorf's and Thanksgiving dinners include champagne and truffled mashed potatoes — is a far more disturbing narrative about gender disparity, sexual violence, and the dark side of wealth.
At the very center of She Regrets Nothing is Laila Lawrence, a young woman who, after becoming an orphan and learning that her grandfather is one of the wealthiest men in New York City, ditches her quaint life (and husband) in the Midwest in favor of a guest room in her cousins' penthouse on the Upper East Side. Creating an intriguing but fairly "unlikable" character who isn't, Andrea Dunlop tells me, a full-on anti-heroine or even a real villain, was one of the most interesting parts of the writing process. "Putting myself in that place with a character that looks at the world so much differently than I do, and so much differently than a lot of typical female heroines, was totally fun," Dunlop says.
Laila makes shocking decisions at every turn, all in the name of getting what she believes is owed to her — namely, her family's wealth and the status that comes with it. Despite her questionable moral choices, Dunlop thinks that readers will be able to relate to Laila's ambition and determination, like the author did herself, even if they don't intend to. "I was rooting for her," Dunlop says, "but I was uncomfortable with it."
Laila's virtue may not draw readers to her side, but her struggle to convince herself and other that she fits in certainly will. Like most young women her age, Laila is, for the first time, coming face-to-face with a reality that isn't anything like she was told it was supposed to be. "This is really the coming-of-age narrative in the book," Dunlop says. "Slamming up against this idea that the world is not what you thought it was."
"I was rooting for her," Dunlop says, "but I was uncomfortable with it."
So many characters in She Regrets Nothing are left with their expectations unmet, but it is the women in the novel who come face-to-face with the harsh reality that the world is a sorely disappointing place for them, in part, because of the double standards they face at every turn.
"That is so much a part of our experience," Dunlop says. "We are told, 'Women, you can do whatever you want and be whoever you want — as long as you are a size two and get married before you are 30.'"
That conflict — the one between the world women want and the one we are given — is at the heart of Dunlop's narrative. Despite the female characters' immense wealth and privilege, they are each still painted into dangerously narrow boxes of existence. To question those parameters, and to try and change them, Dunlop argues, is something not many women in the world of her novel (or in real life) are willing to do yet. She questions whether they would be a part of a movement like #MeToo or Time's Up, two social revolutions that came after she finished writing She Regrets Nothing.
"There are a lot of women — beautiful wealthy white women in particular — who have benefitted from the status quo and from the systems that are in place," Dunlop says. "That is a really fascinating dynamic, and I think it is something that we really need to talk about a lot."
Talking about those uncomfortable, and mostly unspoken, dynamics is something Dunlop hopes her novel inspires readers to do. While she wants readers to be entertained by the glitz and the glamour of She Regrets Nothing, she also wants her novel to inspire readers to confront class a privilege, and to have a "deeply uncomfortable conversation" she believes we need to start having.
Talking is certainly something readers of She Regrets Nothing will be dying to do — that is, after they get through all of the book's third-act twists, each one more intriguing, and more confronting, than the next.
Dunlop thinks readers will find a silver lining in the final pages of her fiction, but "In reality," she says "the ending is never so tidy."