“Luckiest Girl Alive,” the instant New York Times bestselling debut novel by Jessica Knoll ’06, is being hailed by critics as a “dark, twisty” thriller whose “razor-sharp writing” and “propulsive prose” (EW) has drawn comparisons to “Gone Girl” but stands apart with its “humor, cultural insight, and thematic heft” (Alissa Nutting, author of “Tampa”).
Named one of the Huffington Post’s “18 Brilliant Books You Won’t Want To Miss This Summer,” Knoll’s novel — “smart, sexy, and sharp…with more than a bit of heart and hope” (Maclean’s) — centers on TifAni FaNelli, a New York magazine editor who seems, on the surface, to have it all: a perfect job, a perfect apartment, perfect friends, a perfect fiancé with whom she’s planning the perfect wedding.
But Knoll upends these early expectations with an unsettling journey into Ani’s high school traumas, which have propelled her on her upward course of success. Alternating between the past and present, each chapter chips away at the calculated shell Ani has built to preserve the life she thinks she wants.
Knoll — who was an Arts Scholar at HWS, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing — says she always knew she wanted to be a novelist. “I always had this passion.”
After graduation, she moved to New York and worked at a talent and literary agency, where she met magazine writers and editors, which exposed her to a career path she hadn’t considered before. That path led her to Cosmopolitan, where she eventually rose to senior editor.
“I wrote a ton at Cosmo,” she says. “Many of the editors there had their own book careers — my former boss John Searles is an accomplished novelist — so I observed how these people did it, and took the time to decide the kind of book I wanted to write. Magazines teach you to have a perspective and a finely tuned eye, to keep your ear to the ground to find the angle of a story.”
When Knoll began working at Cosmo, “that was the year that a lot of chick-lit novels were all the rage,” she recalls, “but that wasn’t me. I felt nothing for stories like that.”
When she decided she was ready to sit down and write a novel, Knoll wanted to accomplish three things. “I wanted to create a memorable character with a distinct voice. I wanted to create a ripped-from-the-headlines crime story; the psychological-thriller/suspense genre is what I enjoy most, so I wanted that element of intrigue. But I wanted to put my own stamp on that genre — I wanted the book to have a heart. I wanted you to turn the last page and have some kind of emotional response.”
As “Luckiest Girl Alive” speeds through a series of shocking twists, Ani’s ambition and caustic wit are layered with pathos and gravitas to reveal a complicated heroine whose “completely enthralling” and “devilishly dark” story (Publisher’s Weekly) explores a host of fears and anxieties troubling contemporary America.
“I liked the idea of surprising people,” Knoll says. “I intentionally tried to invert the tropes you see in traditional women’s fiction and play with those. I love the idea of mixing the glamorousness with grittiness. I haven’t read that anywhere. It was organic and unique to my own voice because I wanted to tap into those two worlds.”
Published by Simon & Schuster on May 12, “Luckiest Girl Alive” was acquired prior to publication by Lionsgate Films, with Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea producing through Pacific Standard Films.
Witherspoon called “Luckiest Girl Alive” the kind of novel “that grabs you and doesn’t let go. The hero of the book is a wily, intelligent, complex narrator. This character and the thrilling narrative that she drives are exactly the kind of story our company, Pacific Standard Films, wants to produce.”
Knoll has recently begun work on a second novel and is preparing to adapt “Luckiest Girl Alive” for the screen, though she admits she is “more daunted by second book than the screenplay.”
“I have a good bone structure in my head,” she says of the new book. “Now I need to sit down and actually write it.”
After she left Cosmopolitan, Knoll worked as articles editor at Self. She grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and graduated from The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Penn. She now lives in New York City with her husband.
Watch an interview with Knoll here.