A Review of Sarah Selecky's Radiant Shimmering Light
Review by Sally Cooper
Radiant Shimmering Light, Sarah Selecky’s gently funny debut novel, satirizes the packaging of feminine leadership. It also operates as a near-manual for lifestyle bloggers and motivational speakers designing an empowerment-based business.
Author of the Giller-nominated story collection, This Cake is For the Party, Selecky also runs the highly successful online writing course, Story is a State of Mind, known now as Sarah Selecky Writing School, a program that follows a similar paradigm to some of the businesses in Radiant Shimmering Light.
The novel begins with protagonist, Lilian Quick, a pet portraitist who sees animal auras, and her daily routine rife with self-monitoring aphoristic commands such as “Create before you consume” and “Declare your intention.” Inspirational direct marketing newsletters signed by “Eleven” frame Lilian’s narrative. Eleven, it turns out, is Lilian’s cousin Florence. Florence and Lilian haven’t spoken for 20 years, since their grandmother’s funeral. After attending Eleven’s Express your Enlightenment weekend, Lilian relocates to New York City to work for Eleven’s organization. As Lilian’s wealth grows, she experiences a more profound sense of belonging and community, both in person and online. After reading tweets responding to her post about an injury, for example, Lilian declares: “People are so nice. I feel warm and surrounded by care.” Along the way, Radiant Shimmering Light offers insight into a world of affiliates and lifestyle products targeted to wealthy women seeking more.
The writing in Radiant Shimmering Light is bright and crisp. Humour and light infuse the sentences. An example:
The merch booth is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, galaxy-print leggings, and coffee mugs, all with Eleven’s tagline, Want What You Want Want, printed in gold script. In a big square bin, there are gold-and-silver framed prints of her Sacred Ascendancy Prayer for sale, wrapped in plastic with cardboard corner protectors.
Selecky’s tone strikes a subtle balance between mockery and earnestness, both drawing readers in while holding them at a safe distance. She makes amusing use of electronic communication to drive the story forward. Lilian’s co-worker Yolanda, for instance, has ongoing struggles with AutoCorrect: “they might Notting know they’re dong what they’re dong.” Flashback memories of Lilian’s and Florence’s childhoods, though less captivating, flesh out the story. Yet, while Lilian is self-deprecating, warm, and charmingly unreliable, Florence/Eleven comes across as more aloof.
Lilian’s progression from disgruntled, money-challenged artist to enlightened woman able to see human auras is absorbing. In the end, though, the novel lacks bite in that the characters don’t change overly much.
When Lilian publishes an online article about a philandering meditation instructor, her exposure and credibility increase. Banking on her new high profile, Lilian starts selling Eleven’s LunarDevotional mala beads and Conscious Chocolate Truffle Collection with great success. However, when Lilian slows down enough to account for her own actions, she has regrets. Was she jilted or sexually harassed? The novel walks a fine line around these questions. Selecky keeps the tone light and forward-moving, a refreshing choice, though one that leaves the reader wishing for Lilian’s (or Eleven’s) comeuppance.
Brimming with insights into female-driven motivational seminars in the age of #MeToo, Radiant Shimmering Light speaks to our desire for community in a time of intense technological connection and consumerism.