1714 Marlowe’s second chance

Marlowe Banks, Redesigned
by Jacqueline Firkins

New York: Macmillan (St. Martin’s Griffin), 2022
$16.99 (U.S) / 9781250836502

Review by Alison Acheson


“In a world filled with messages to be louder and bigger, to take up more space, to garner more attention, denying those messages seems pretty brave to me.”

Twenty-something costume-designer, Marlowe Banks, moves to Los Angeles for a redesign of her life. She’s left a job, a career, and a fiancé in NYC. She’s trying to leave behind gaslighting and critical voices, too, but they’ve followed her. Her I-can’t-accept-this ex-fiancé texts rather painfully and, like the gun on the wall, you know he just has to show up at some point.

The storyline is not unexpected: Girl meets Boy; Big Misunderstanding; Gets Sorted… From the back cover: “When a costume mix-up requires Marlowe to step into a scene, the camera catches a heated look between her and Angus Gordon, the show’s arrogant bad-boy.…”

This sounds familiar. But with Jacqueline Firkins, it goes beyond: it’s the writing that makes this a solid read, writing with insight and humour. What you think is going to happen, happens, but not as you might expect and not without worthwhile pieces-to-keep on the way.

Jacqueline Firkins. Photo courtesy UBC Theatre and Film Department

The last time I read a romance novel, social media did not exist, there were no cell phones and no texts. Maybe I was due for a re-visit. Social media plays a significant role in this story, just as the world outside plays an affective role in our lives, and often too much to do with our hearts now. Those with the best of intentions, with intelligence, can put together perspectives that are, quite simply, off. We like to think we can see through the vision we’re offered by the world, but this novel made me ponder how too easily we do the buy-in. “Seeing … a person instead of an idea,” is a recurring theme here.

Firkins has published three novels for teens, and this is her first for adults, young-at-heart adults. Her work is snappy and thoughtful, intelligent and of-the-gut. The character of Marlowe has integrity; at times she is able to analyze both her self and life situations, and has a sense of fairness in overdrive, yet she leaps to assumptions at times, and sees in clouded ways — in other words, she’s believable. How can we know, and still behave as we do? I’d love to go back in time and hand this book to my own twenty-something — maybe thirty-something — self, and say, “Have a read, you!”

Other elements of this work that stand out: Firkins’ working knowledge as a costume designer, as one who has created in the film and theatre world, and is now a professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Theatre and Film. This piece is a delight throughout, both in the details of the working day on a television set, and through Marlowe’s eyes, with her lenses of clothing and costume creating her vision of the world around her, her scrutiny of the nature of choices in how we present to the world, and how we express.

Jacqueline Firkins. Photo courtesy Peter Wall Institute, UBC

Female friendships are also a significant thread, and one I appreciate. Marlowe’s coworker and immediate superior are key characters, two differentiated women, one quickly likeable, the other not so much. Both bring about human knowledge; Marlowe calls her superior on something, with no idea if her bravery will be rewarded.

A third female character is – interestingly — the friend of the love interest. I appreciate this story-line, too. With the way others are portrayed in the public, it’s too easy to assume, judge, and abandon. Really, with even Marlowe’s left-behind NYC friends, female friendships are a source of positive here.

At times Marlowe seems almost too wise in her analyses of life, of her life, relationships, family, situations. The irony, which Firkins handles so well, is that Marlowe knows so much — inside out, it seems — and still messes up. In a brief snippet we learn that Marlowe is a child of divorce; what do grown-ups do with this paradigm? How do they get beyond to think that they can create a healthy connection? In our contemporary life, we are surrounded by pop-psych. We pick up the language of therapists, and measure our selves, our days. But does it really guide us? In this story, there’s a conscious setting aside of assumptions, jargon, modern tech and head-messing stuff, and instead, there’s an exploration of going under the layers to the qualities of humanness, aiming for clear-sightedness and growth. With humour … did I already say that? It bears repeating.

We can try to design our lives, to plan and push, to create public persona, but the truth is that our lives unfold, take us by surprise, and ask of us for more redesign than otherwise. To do so gracefully, with acceptance, is key, even as we choose lines we won’t cross and the integrity we need to be true to self.

Marlowe Banks, Redesigned is funny and truthful; forget bigger, and be brave.


Alison Acheson

Alison Acheson is the author of almost a dozen books for all ages, with the most recent being a memoir of caregiving: Dance Me to the End: Ten Months and Ten Days With ALS (TouchWood, 2019). She writes a newsletter on Substack, The Unschool for Writers, and lives on the East Side of Vancouver. Editor’s note: Alison Acheson has also reviewed books by Barbara Nickel and Caroline Adderson for The British Columbia Review.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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