The Anatomy of Desire by L.R. Dorn

As we slide past Memorial Day and into the summer season, I'm really dialed into working through my summer reading. I've written in the past that summer reading usually marks a shift to addictive page-turners that pull on my emotions through either strong character drama or twisty thrills. Fortunately for me, my friends at William Morrow sent along a book to review that does both of those things. In The Anatomy of Desire writing duo, L.R. Dorn presents a modern retelling of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy

Cleo Ray has everything she could ever dream of. She's escaped the restrictive grasp of her religious fundamentalist parents by moving to Los Angelos under the guardianship of her uncle. Since moving and growing into adulthood, Cleo has made a name for herself as a fitness influencer. Her charisma has skyrocketed her to fame and notoriety. She's in a relationship with another prominent influencer, and everything seems to be going her way. 

Life has a funny way of catching up with a person. One afternoon Cleo takes the young woman Beck Aldin canoeing on a lake. The isolated location provides a quiet respite for the two to talk and take in the scenery. Soon after, the roughed up remains of Beck are found floating in the water, and Cleo seems to have disappeared. From the start, the situation provides more questions than answers. We aren't exactly sure what relationship the girls have, let alone why Cleo would leave the scene of what is either a tragic accident or calculated murder. As the news of Cleo's involvement breaks across social media, one thing is certain. Cleo's dreams of a life of fame and luxury are about to be traded for one of pure tragedy. 

I'm always a bit apprehensive about picking up a book that reimagines a famous novel. Sometimes they are hits, like Margaret Atwood's creative take on Shakespeare, that breathe riveting new life into the original work. Other times they seem to exist more to attract readers of the classic they are based upon than for any true creative reason. It has been over a decade since I read Dreiser's novel, but Dorn's take on the story works as both a modernization of a classic and as a standalone endeavor. Even if you've never read An American Tragedy, you'll still be able to find value in the commentary on fame, relationships, and the criminal justice system that The Anatomy of Desire provides. 

The novel is presented as the transcript of a podcast with each chapter serving as an episode. It took me a bit of time to fall into the rhythm of the format, but by the third episode, I was completely drawn in. The book ends up reading like a play, with each character giving their version of the events. As such, I actually think this story might work better as an audiobook than it did in print. The bulk of the work centers around a criminal trial. I found myself rushing to the next page to see the entire event through. My only real complaint is that the main character Cleo isn't an inherently good or bad person. While the ambiguity of her innocence lends to a more suspenseful read, it also makes it hard to know if the reader should root for her. Still, The Anatomy of Desire is a thoughtful page-turner that gave me everything I was looking for in a summer read. It was a great choice to start off this season. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 20)


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22 Responses to “The Anatomy of Desire by L.R. Dorn”

  1. Retellings can be tricky but I like the sound of Dorn's modern take on the original. The use of the podcast transcript is pretty clever and it seems like it worked well. So glad you enjoyed this one, Ethan!

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    1. I agree. I've read more poorly done retellings than not, but this one is really good.

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  2. The fact that this book is a modern retelling of Dreiser's An American Tragedy is what intrigues me about it. :)

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    1. It adds an extra level of enjoyment to this already intriguing story.

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  3. It's neat how this book is told through transcripts of a podcast. I agree that it seems like it'd be great to listen to the audiobook.

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    1. It was a really clever way to get more characters involved in telling the story!

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  4. I definitely think that audio was the way to go with this book. The full cast acting out everything added a lot to the story. I never read the source material but really enjoyed this one in the end.

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    1. I'm kind of sorry that I missed out on listening to it. It sounds like it really took this story to the next level!

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  5. Some authors have the knack for translating a classic into the modern, but, as you noted, others seem to be just a gimmick. I'm glad this one seemed to capture the essence of the original and give you some good suspense even if the main character was kept shady.

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    1. Retellings are either hit or a miss, with few falling between. This one was absolutely a hit!

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  6. Not knowing if you should root for a character or not is interesting. This sounds really interesting. I love a page turner.

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    1. The "did she or didn't she" aspect of this one drove the conflict, but also kept me guessing until the very end.

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  7. I've been seeing mixed reviews on this one. I've got a hold on it from the library - audio version.

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    1. I really think the audio version is going to be the way to go with this one. I hope you enjoy it!

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  8. Completely agree on your thoughts regarding retellings. I was thinking this would be good one audio and laughed when you suggested just that!

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    1. It can be so hard to find a good one. Thankfully, this one is one!

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  9. I love how it has such a unique concept and way of writing it.

    Since you've already recommended another great audiobook to me, I'm going to add this one to the list as well! I'm almost done with Mother May I. I think 1 more hour to go :o

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    1. Ooh I'm excited to see what you think of Mother May I!

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  10. I actually do not know of the original story so no idea what happens

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    1. You'll still have plenty to dig into if you approach this one as a standalone work!

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  11. I don’t know the original novel, but the format and te premise of this grabbed me right away. That said, if someone can add something new to a retelling, I am sooo THERE, adding the book toy my TBR!

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