I don’t need to jump off cliffs into oceans to die

All Grown Up
by Jami Attenberg

This book is described in the publisher’s PR as a comedy, and while it has comic moments, that’s not really how I would describe it. Or at least, it’s not how I experienced it. I did, however, really enjoy it.

This is the story of Andrea, a woman living in New York at that point in life (39, turning 40) when she interrogates her life choices – how she stopped pursuing art and took a job in advertising that she dislikes yet is somehow still doing 10 years later; how despite a string of love affairs she is basically single and basically fine with that; how she has fallen away from friends and family who have got married and had children as she has realised that she doesn’t want those things for herself.

“A book is published. It’s a book about being single, written by an extremely attractive woman who is now married, and it is a critical yet wistful remembrance of her uncoupled days. I have no interest in reading this book. I am already single. I have been single a long time. There is nothing this book can teach me about being single that I don’t already know. Regardless, everyone I know tells me about this book. They are like carrier pigeons, fluttering messages, doing the bidding of a wicked media maestro on a rooftop in modern Manhattan. Nothing will prevent them from reaching their destination, me, their presumed target demographic.”

It’s told in an unusual style where each chapter is almost an isolated short story, so information gets repeated, time jumps around. A small detail in one chapter becomes the focus of a future chapter, gradually piecing together Andrea’s adult life so far. I was initially confused and thought it was about several different women, but then realised what was going on and ended up appreciating its unique take.

The prose is staccato, but also really sharp, clearly evoking frustration at life. Even though Andrea claims to be happy, there is a slightly melancholic tone. She is gradually realising how much her family mean to her, and that their sorrows and difficulties are hers too.

“Then her phone buzzes in front of me and I look at it because I am pie-eyed and also because I want to know what’s going on in her life that she’s not telling me. It’s a text from Bryce telling her he was glad she bought the dress after all and then another text from him telling her how hot she looked in it, and then another text from him telling her that he would like to take it off her, and then another asking her to meet him at seven, and then a final text indicating specific oral desires, both given and received. And I say to myself: Oh. I don’t need to jump off cliffs into oceans to die, because every day there is a little death waiting for me. All I have to do is wake up and walk out the front door.”

I really enjoyed this novel. Andrea’s life is pretty ordinary, but Attenberg really captures the daily dramas, the humour and tragedy of the everyday.

Published April 2017 by Serpent’s Tail.

Source: A copy was kindly supplied by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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