Posts Tagged GenX
book review: societal expectations and the 40something woman in the novels who you think i am and All Grown Up
who you think i am by Camille Laurens. Other Press| March 2017| 208 pages | $14.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-832-8
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg. Houghton Mifflin| March 2017| 208 pages | $25.00| ISBN: 978-0-544-82424-9
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I decided to review these books together as they focus on how society makes 40something women about their life choices. Both characters in who you think I am and All Grown Up question their place in a patriarchal society where they choose not to check off the boxes like most people. These women aren’t embracing motherhood and being partnered up. They question their value and place in society. Both novels read as feminist meditations on how unmarried women over 40 contribute to society and where they might fit in when societal standards dictate woman over 40 aren’t supposed to be living independent and solitary lives.
In reading these novels I found both characters possessed qualities to which I could completely relate: the odd woman out who chooses that less-traveled path. Perhaps these women aren’t completely satisfied with their imperfect lives but they’re doing their best and they’re fighting stereotypes along the way. Both women aren’t quite sure where they belong. Both women strive to be comfortable in their bodies. By literary standards one would define these characters as unlikable. Both are easily relatable in varied ways. I’ve never been married and don’t have children and don’t always feel grown up despite being in my 40s just like Andrea Bern in All Grown Up. Like Claire Millecam in who you think I am I often feel undervalued, unwanted and misunderstood. Also I’ve done a considerable amount of online dating/ meeting men online. Both women approach their circumstances in different manners. Authors Camille Laurens and Jami Attenberg utilize a sharp, witty tone to make these immensely readable and provocative novels. Both novels, although short, are packed with insight and intelligence.
“I wasn’t interested in being seen, or even seen in a good light. I wanted to be recognized. For someone to say: there she is!” – who you think i am
In who you think I am, Claire Millecam, a 48-year-old divorced teacher, poses as a 20something online in order to befriend a younger man who happens to be her boyfriend’s friend. They end up having a relationship and later on her catfishing, I guess you could call it, gets exposed. Claire flipped the switch on what someone expected of her and created the woman that she felt she needed to be at that time.
The beginning of the novel opens with Claire speaking to a therapist in a mental health facility. Claire’s quite angry and frustrated that women over 40 aren’t seen or heard or valued by society. At one point Claire tells her therapist: “women are condemned—by force or by contempt, to die. That’s a fact, everywhere, all the time: men teach women to die. From north to south, fundamentalist or pornographic, it’s the sole same tyranny. Existing only in their eyes, and dying when they close their eyes.”
This intriguing, intelligent, unique novel is a meditation on age, beauty standards, relationships and mental illness from a feminist perspective. It’s also an examination of online dating. Writer Camille Laurens allows Claire’s story unfold through the eyes of Claire, her therapist and her younger lover. About her lover, Claire shares: “I was used to more intellectual connection with me, I was one of those people who wonder how anyone can live without reading Proust.” Claire’s psychiatrist falls in love with her and this is what he reveals: “She touches me and captivates me, yes, I’m a captive. I want to see her. . . And I like being there for her. I’d like to bandage her wounds. She may be mad after all, in the way we understand the word. Certainly. But it’s the mad who heal us, isn’t it?”
“But most days I can’t see through the pain to the truth.”—All Grown Up
In All Grown Up, Andrea Bern gave up her dreams to be an artist to take a salaried position in advertising. She lives in an apartment in New York. Her friends are getting married and having children. She rotates through lovers. She does drugs. She feels pain while living somewhat messily and unapologetically. She’s in a safe spot professionally and socially which fits her goals and interests. Her work isn’t challenging but it’s steady and consistent. She isn’t committed to any one man and maintains her independence. She’s coping and she’s living a life that makes sense to her. In the meantime, everyone she knows seems to be changing their lives or moving around and doing new things while she remains in the same place doing what she’s pretty much always done. Her brother and sister-in-law move to rural New Hampshire to care for their terminally ill child. Andrea’s mother moves up there to help them leaving Andrea feeling abandoned. This brilliantly written novel features deft characterizations and dark humor.
“I don’t see myself as having anything conventional. But still I date. I fuck. I see.” She adds: “People architect new lives all the time. I know this because I never see them again or they move to new cities or even just to new neighborhoods or you hate their spouse or their spouse hates you or they start working the night shift or they start training for a marathon or they stop going to bars or they start going to therapy or they realize they don’t like you anymore or they die. It happens constantly. It’s just me. I haven’t built anything new. I’m the one getting left behind.” When Andrea’s friend goes through a divorce: “Then she calls me and she’s crying and we talk for a while about her marriage and while I am sad that my friend is sad, it makes me happier than ever that I’ve never been married and never will be, because marriage sounds like a goddamn job and why would I want another one of those?” And of her sister-in-law in New Hampshire: “Gun racks, Trump lawn signs, and no bookstores. She has to get into a car and drive everywhere.” Andrea also recognizes an alternate reality: “sometimes I cry, too, for who I was as an artist and what my life could have been like if only I had kept going. I weep for my lost identities. I weep for my possibilities.”
One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper. Publisher: Dutton (August 21, 2012). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 336 pages. ISBN: 978-0-525-95236-7.
“He recognizes this as only another lonely person can—that small, almost invisible edge in her expression that comes from too many solitary meals and movies, too much time spent in worthless introspection, too much time spent regretting a past that can’t be undone. This is someone who is ready to be loved, he thinks.”
Jonathan Tropper is definitely one of my favorite contemporary male authors. When I heard he had a new novel coming out, I quickly requested a copy and immediately read it. Tropper writes about flawed, failed GenXer men with a sensitive understanding, a witty edge and an insightful flair. Silver is a divorced musician. A one-hit-wonder. He tasted the fame. Now he plays weddings. His ex-wife will soon re-marry a doctor. He lives in an awful apartment building crawling with other divorced men. His teenage daughter Casey shows up to announce she’s pregnant. Casey’s the class valedictorian and en route to Princeton. So to say this is irresponsible behavior for his 18-year-old daughter remains beyond hyperbole. When Silver finds out he’s dying of a heart condition, he sees it as an easy out. Or is it?
I found both the pregnancy and the medical condition to be strange plot lines that I both couldn’t get past and couldn’t stop reading about. Tropper writes that well. His character and dialogue can move past any ridiculous plot. If the plot-line had been better I’d have liked the book better. Who chooses to opt out of a heart condition at 43 because he’s not sure he wants to keep on living? I can completely relate to what Silver means but having that hang over your head at all times– wouldn’t one be completely anxiety-ridden? Tropper incorporates it as an additional character, or the fifth dimension or something to that effect. It’s somewhat ridiculous and the other characters realize it but analyze it and philosophize about it just the same. I’ve decided I won’t read novels that revolve around a pregnancy from a one-night-stand as it’s so unrealistic in 2012. As the novel’s about Silver, Casey’s pregnancy isn’t a major plot-line but Tropper handles it deftly. Fortunately Tropper’s smarter than other authors and excels at the craft. Both parents torment their daughter and mention how ridiculous she was not to use protection. Kudos to Tropper for mentioning abortion and detailing scenes with the parents on this. He’s realistic about teenagers.
Regret? Through Silver, Tropper shows that we can’t really regret what’s already been done. What’s past is past. The reader begins to comprehend the desires, insecurities and nuances as the Band-Aid gets ripped off at an excruciatingly slow pace. One Last Thing Before I Go had a few annoying bumps but mostly warm and fuzzy moments and humorous anecdotes about a man-child figuring out whether to move forward or let go. It’s about being happy with the here and now. Not settling. Not giving up. But being in the moment. Being present. And that’s never easy at any age for anyone.
purchase at Amazon: One Last Thing Before I Go