Green Dot: A Novel

Image of Green Dot: A Novel
Release Date: 
February 27, 2024
Henry Holt and Co.
Reviewed by: 

There’s a memorable line in the Latin American classic Women With Big Eyes that reads, “Aunt Daniela fell in love the way intelligent women always fall in love: like an idiot.”

With her uncanny insight into how cluelessly, sadly, misguidedly women fall in love, Angeles Mastretta’s narrator would surely quip “See what I mean?” if she were to meet Hera, the protagonist of Green Dot, Madeleine Gray’s new novel.

Because Hera is a genius. An extraordinarily smart young woman drifting through life with deadened insides originally caused by the abandonment (and maybe worse) of her mother, but also by her unfortunate awareness of the inequality between her superior wit and that of others.

“I saw school as a perfect little realm of intellectual industry and competition that could act as a litmus test for my own potential. I wanted to confirm my own suspicion that if I put my mind to it, I could beat everyone I knew. I wanted direct evidence that I was not like the other people, and that if in life I did not gain money or professional accolades this was not because I was less capable than others, but because I chose not to engage in systems that presented careers as rewards. Others would be rich, but I’d have the music, or something to that effect. . . .

“As someone who now writes this without money or my own Spotify subscription, I suppose if I were either cruel or even pragmatic I would report back to 17-year-old me and warn her that her logic would actually bring her neither the riches nor the music. But I am neither cruel nor pragmatic, and she’ll find out soon enough, with or without help from me.”

None of this is facetiousness on Hera’s part. The cult to her own wit has been what she has hung on to all her life and she, like many, longs for time to think and study, freed from the drudge of a job, while also longing for community, for inclusion, and yes, for love. It is a catch-22 for her: She needs the mental space in which to come up with the highly entertaining cynical observations she feeds on, but then such incredible cultural (if not always emotional) intelligence and highbrow cleverness will, of course, hunger to be seen, heard, enjoyed, and result in her own depression when alone or undervalued.

Enter the soul-deadening corporate job (a position as social media comment moderator). Enter, also, the need for excitement in the form of an older married man.

“And with this he steps out into the corridor that will take him to reception that will take him to the lift that will take him to wherever he sleeps at night. I am alight once more, new energy surging through me; the thrill of a challenge. It’s on, then. It is that simple. I have found the source of sustenance I will need to survive the office. For two minutes today I have been reminded that I am a person. I am going to hold on to it, of course I am.”

And yes, some of it is predictable (if entertainingly so), but a lot of it is not. And that is because author Gray is a talented writer in strong command of the interior monologue with which her young protagonist travels her world. This is how she makes us laugh and keeps us from feeling bored when we can guess what is about to happen. This is how she keeps us from hating Hera, no small feat given this is a girl (yes, a girl) capable of sliding down the rabbit hole to the point of having sex with a man in the house in which he still lives with his pregnant wife, while swearing she was in control of a relationship she began under someone else’s deeply unethical (and possibly criminal) delusion.

“So now, when you question how I could’ve been such a fool, when you’re tempted to chide me, perhaps, for my naivety, remember this. I knew that he was good. And I knew that he loved me, and I couldn’t fathom why he would cause me and her and himself so much pain if he didn’t at least intend to eventually get joy out of it, change his life, start a new one.”

Yes, yes, a reader would be excused for shaking their head all through that, and yet. Isn’t that how mistakes happen? Somebody needs something and that something doesn’t allow them to see what others can clock easily. And it’s how novels save themselves, when well-written. They remind us of those times when we, too, were innocent. When, smart as we are, we didn’t really know much of anything at all.