March 17, 2015 by Jason Seligson
The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is so convincing that, a few pages into my reading, I had to Google its title character to see if she was a real person. She’s not; Addison is Griffin’s creation, but her book makes Addison come alive in an amazing way.
Before her death, Addison was a rising star in the art world, and Griffin’s book is a tribute to her life and talent. Griffin structures the book as a nonfiction report on Addison’s life, told from the perspective by Griffin. (Here’s where it gets a little confusing. I tend to think of it like an alternate universe. Griffin writes a fictionalized version of herself, who is a teacher at Pratt, and has an encounter with Addison Stone, who remember, is Griffin’s own fictional creation). After a brief encounter, after which Addison drops her class, Griffin begins keeping tabs on Addison and her budding art career.
It’s very difficult to imagine this book existing solely as black and white text. The stunning visuals make the story. It is one thing to be told that Addison is a brilliant, deeply troubled person—and another to see it on the page alongside the transcripts of Griffin’s faux interviews. Being able to put a face to a name—especially when it comes to Addison’s friends and love interests—added so much texture to her world. Furthermore, being able to see Addison’s artwork allows for a substantially greater insight into Addison’s psyche.
The only disappointment I had came about three-quarters of the way through my reading, when I realized that there wasn’t going to be a game-changing twist. I know Griffin never really set up Addison’s death as a “whodunit,”—all signs were pointing toward it being a suicide—but the few ambiguous breadcrumbs Griffin sprinkled in left me hoping for a twist. I thought that Addison’s family came off as way too noncommittal to be totally innocent, and that her best friend, Lucy, was hiding something underneath her sunny exterior. I would have bet money that one of Addison’s high school mentors, the people responsible for pushing her to New York, or her largely absentee parents, would have been the ones to do it, but maybe I’ve just seen too much Veronica Mars. For a while, I was scrutinizing each interview I read, scouring for clues, because I didn’t believe any of them.
Alas, there was no jaw-dropping character-reversal moment—but it’s not like all of the characters are totally innocent, either. While it feels unfair to blame anyone directly for Addison’s death, it’s hard to argue that everyone in her life didn’t play some part.
It’s worth mentioning that Addison’s death is also not an unequivocal suicide. Griffin ends the book with two possible interpretations—the other option is that it was an accident. Was the bridge supposed to be another stunt, like so many others that Addison had pulled off? While I enjoy not knowing definitively, I’m of the belief that her fall was intentional. For someone as plagued as Addison had been her entire life, suicide is really the only path that makes sense.
Stylistically, The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. The story Adele Griffin has woven together feels more like a documentary than prose, and it makes for a totally unique reading experience.