Welcome to Word to the Wise, where Refinery29 sits down with the superstars of the literary world to talk about your new, soon-to-be-favourite books.
“The last thing the world needs is one more woman with principles. What we need is women with money,” Stephanie Simmons, one of three narrators in Jessica Knoll’s sumptuous new thriller, The Favourite Sister, states matter-of-factly. “Women with money have flexibility, and nothing is more dangerous than a woman who can bend any way she wants.”
Stephanie, a highly successful author, views each stair in her multi-story apartment as evidence of her power. Her ambition towards wealth, after all, is how she scored a spot on the reality TV show Goal Diggers, which follows a group of millennial women entrepreneurs as they achieve success and stir up drama. On the surface, Goal Diggers celebrates these millionaire women’s tremendous achievements – but the show’s momentum is actually provided by pitting the women against each other. It’s no wonder the tension culminates in the murder of Brett Courtney, the show's fan-favourite contestant.
The Favourite Sister, Knoll's follow-up to the wildly successful Luckiest Girl Alive, is a thriller concerned with questions of female ambition, expectations of womanhood, and the commodification of girl-on-girl rivalries. It's a fast-paced twister of a book with a philosophical spine.
For Refinery29's first ever Word to the Wise talkshow, Leah Carroll sat down with Knoll to get to the heart of the contradictions present in this novel. Why is a woman pursuing her dreams with single-minded precision considered villainous? How can a woman measure up to be all that is expected of her: a likeable "girlboss" who does spins every day and eats as much pizza as she wants?
When the cameras aren't watching, the characters in The Favourite Sister are free to reveal their uglier motivations. "I think it's important that we see women who get to cross over to the dark side. Particularly for women who were raised to be so polite," Knoll told Carroll when asked about the importance of having complicated women in fiction. "A lot of this is a cathartic experience. I'm living through these women who have had enough, and just snap. In some ways, it keeps me from snapping."
So Knoll uses her writing to exorcise her own curiosity of "the dark side." But Knoll's journey toward success actually resembles that of the characters in The Favourite Sister. In an op-ed for the New York Times entitled "I Want to Be Rich and I'm Not Sorry," Knoll explains, as matter-of-factly as Stephanie did in the book, her definition of success. "Success, for me, is synonymous with making money. I want to write books, but I really want to sell books. I want advances that make my husband gasp and fat royalty checks twice a year," she wrote.
"The essay is really about women getting comfortable with expressing what they want in life," Knoll told Carroll.
Both Knoll and the characters in The Favourite Sister embrace a thrilling model of economic ambition. They are women who don't ask for what they want — they are women who go out and get it.
"Only in fiction have I been able to create women who aggressively seek money and power the way men seek money and power," Knoll wrote in the Times.