Everyone knows the saying: “Never judge a book by its cover.”
Yeah, fuck that saying.
I’ll never refuse to read a book because of a terrible cover — I just bought a used Muriel Spark book that features an extremely off-putting cover, however I’m sure I’ll love it because it’s fucking Muriel Spark — but I will often buy a book solely because of a sharply designed, well-executed cover.
Jen Beagin’s BIG SWISS was one of those books. I mean, come on, scroll back up to the top of this post. I saw the cover, refrained from opening it, balked at reading the inscription in the slipcover and thought to myself: “I don’t know what this book is about, but I know I need it.”
I’ll note that I saw that one of my favorite media critics, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, wrote the best take on this novel — which I read well after reading the novel — please: read her words! Similarly, we both were won over on the cover alone.
BIG SWISS is a whirlwind of a novel, all focused on a capital L Literary take on queerness, therapy, interloping, trauma, power dynamics, and middle-aged insecurities. It’s about a 45-year-old fuckup of a woman falling in lust with a far-younger married woman and the cavalcade that comes with that undertaking, all while also trepidatiously straddling the trauma that both women have endured. It moves at a breathless pace and features some absolutely filthy notes that I have no idea how will be adapted in the forthcoming TV series. (Apparently it was optioned by Jodie Comer (KILLING EVE) a good year before it was even published.) That said, I certainly appreciate that they exist in the actual text. It also hedges way too close to home for me, something I never predicted based on the cover.
I read this while visiting family and couldn’t stop blushing, but also couldn’t stop reading it. It’s an exhilarating swing of a novel, one that is naked about its approach.
(Oh, I forgot to mention: there are a lot of bees. Way too many bees, and I’m someone who was told at a young age: “Don’t let a bee sting you” and I later rode a horse that trampled over a hornet’s nest and they took it out on me and also proceeded to ride a lawnmower over a wasp’s nest and they also took it out on me so I should kind of be dead by now, and I should feel a bit more affected by this material, but oddly I am not. Also: yes, I realize honeybees are completely different from wasps and hornets, but their stinger threat is still similar.)