In her debut novel There Are No Rules for This (She Writes Press, May 2023), JJ Elliott draws readers into a deeply affecting story of friendship, loss, guilt, healing, and forgiveness. Told from the perspective of Ali, the story starts with Feeney’s suicide and progresses through its aftershocks, while continually flashing back to memorable incidents over the course of the women’s friendship. Why didn’t Ali, who believed she knew Feeney better than Liddy or Max did, see it coming? Did she really know her at all? Did Feeney really have to die for her closest friends to know she was suffering?
Those questions are only strengthened during the traditional, staid funeral for Josephine Simms (aka Feeney), dictated by her icy mother. After enduring a carefully orchestrated, emotionless memorial service for someone who seems to be a stranger, Ali, Liddy, and Max set out to celebrate the Feeney they loved for her heart and spirit in their own way—complete with drinking a pinch of her purloined ashes in a glass of her favorite wine. After toasting Feeney, the three survivors are seized with a wild and very Feeney-ish idea: Why not hold their own funerals, so they can say and hear how much they mean to one another while they’re still alive?
Interweaving moments of hilarity with expressions of profound grief, There Are No Rules for This offers glimpses of what drove Feeney to take her own life through comments that her friends dismissed and passages in the diary she kept, which Ali happens to find. Yet, JJ Elliott does not offer Ali, Liddy, and Max—or her readers—clear and simple answers. When the novel closes, the reasons Feeney did not seek help from her friends and felt unable to go on living remain a mystery. What shines out, however, is the value of Feeney’s life and her ongoing gift to the women she loved.