UNBECOMING

Rebecca Scherm

On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she’s from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she’s in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris,

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On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she’s from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she’s in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Grace’s web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely.

Unbecoming is an intricately plotted and psychologically nuanced heist novel that turns on suspense and slippery identity. With echoes of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, Rebecca Scherm’s mesmerizing debut is sure to entrance fans of Gillian Flynn, Marisha Pessl, and Donna Tartt.

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  • Viking
  • Hardcover
  • January 2015
  • 320 Pages
  • 9780525427506

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About Rebecca Scherm

Rebecca Scherm holds an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan, where she currently teaches. Her work has appeared in Subtropics, The Hairpin, Hobart, and Fiction Writers Review.

Praise

From the first page, you know Rebecca Scherm is the real thing. Unbecoming is an assured exploration of the intricate, intense, risky processes that go into creating identity—and into dismantling it.—Tana French

Rebecca Scherm’s extraordinarily confident voice and style, this novel’s depth of detail—great characters and a terrifically engaging plot—are a sheer delight to read. There is something very fresh and captivating about this book, and best of all I had no idea what was going to happen from one page to the next. —Kate Atkinson

“Unbecoming is a novel of voice, invention, and momentum, as tautly plotted as any Hitchcock movie and focused on the central question any lover and any jewel thief must eventually ask: How do you tell what’s fake from what’s real?” —Karen Joy Fowler

“‘Self-assured’ doesn’t begin to describe the skill with which Rebecca Scherm develops her central character—Grace—and the tangled web she weaves, which is her life itself. It’s a completely compelling read from start to finish, beautifully researched and brilliantly constructed. I loved it.”

—Elizabeth George

Discussion Questions

What does Grace love about Riley and why is she drawn to him?

Riley paints buildings. What do his artistic choices say about his character?

Why is Grace’s time in New York important, and what does it teach her about herself and her relationship with Riley?

Grace is a self-professed liar but claims she gets no joy from it. Why, then, do you think she’s constantly avoiding telling the truth?

There are many thieves and liars in this book. Which acts are forgivable, and which are not?

What aspects of the heist and its aftermath unfold in the way Grace predicts? Which parts surprise her?

In Alls, Grace finds something of a kindred spirit. What is it that they have in common? How is Alls like or unlike Riley?

Grace finally breaks down and tells her story—or most of it—to her coworker Hanna. What makes her choose Hanna as a confidante? What is Hanna’s response?

Alls comments that Grace shines a light that blinds others to who she really is. How can this quality be both a positive and a negative trait in a person?

Throughout the book, Grace has the sense that Riley is going to catch up with her and confront her. What did you expect would happen?

The title of this book evokes multiple meanings. What does it mean to you?