Posts Tagged ‘Jami Attenberg’

‘All This Could Be Yours’ by Jami Attenberg – The Dad Was Bad

 

‘All This Could Be Yours’ by Jami Attenberg    (2019) – 298 pages

The catchphrase for ‘All This Could be Yours’ is “family dysfunction at its finest”, and I am always up for some family dysfunction in my fiction reading.

At the center of this novel is Victor Tuchman. He is a miserable human being who sometimes beats his wife and has hurt every member of his family in one way or another.

Every so often he smacked her. The arguments were stupid, trivial, about nothing, about money which they had plenty of. Nothing was ever worth violence, but she grew used to it, and in a way, it was how she knew he was still paying attention to her, because most of the time, he wasn’t around.”

The family does live in a nice house in Connecticut and all, because Victor is not a criminal low life; he is a criminal high life. We live in a time when many of the richest people are outright criminals because white collar crime perpetrated by white people is rarely punished. Victor has made his living in some forms of organized criminal activity which he never discusses with his family. Later he is beset with several sexual harassment lawsuits from a few of his former mistresses.

Anyhow very early in the novel he has a severe heart attack, and for the rest of the novel he lays dying in a hospital in New Orleans where he and his wife have moved in old age. We then meet other members of his immediate family with their own awful memories and feelings about Victor.

This is a story of severe family dysfunction, and these are best told in an oppressive claustrophobic atmosphere. ‘All This Could Be Yours’ loses its intensity when it wanders too far from this immediate family situation. Sometimes it becomes as discursive as a New Orleans travelogue.

Things to do in New Orleans. Drink, eat, drink, eat, jazz. The Mississippi. Cemeteries and ghosts. Alligators. She crossed Canal Street and the threshold of the French Quarter. Drink, eat, jazz. Ghosts.”

The novel loses its way for me when about half way through it tells the life story of daughter-in-law Twyla. Ultimately Twyla is also very much a victim of Victor Tuchman as shown in one of the weirdest scenes I have ever encountered, but her back story probably could have been left out. It is only after she meets and marries the son Gary Tuchman that her story relates at all the Tuchman family. Now they are getting divorced. The novel becomes diffuse and wandering, lacking focus.

So for me the catchphrase for ‘All This Could Be Yours’ would be changed to “family dysfunction at its middling”.

 

Grade:    B-

 

 

‘All Grown Up’ by Jami Attenberg – A Single Woman’s Unruly Days

‘All Grown Up’ by Jami Attenberg   (2017) – 197 pages

If novels are slices of life, and I do believe they are, then the slice of life depicted in ‘All Grown Up’ is that of a single thirty-nine year old heterosexual woman living in New York City today. Her name is Andrea.  She was born in New York City, left town to go to art school, but moved back again.  Now she has a well-paying job in advertising, where the meetings are “intensely dull, soul-deadening”.  Andrea has a view of the Empire State Building from her apartment window which she draws each morning to keep up with her interest in art.

She dates men she meets through the Internet with the usual chaotic results.  After one drunken encounter, Andrea says, “This is not a date, this is an audition for a play about a terrible date.”

When a book by a woman is published about being single, everyone she knows including her mother tries to push it on Andrea, but she has no interest in reading about the plight of a single woman because “There is nothing this book can teach me about being single that I don’t already know.”

In ‘All Grown Up’, Andrea asks such timely questions as “What if I don’t want to hold your baby?”, “Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce?”, and “Why does everybody keep asking me why I’m not married?”

With her ironic and dry perspective on things, Andrea projects a lot of humor.  However there is also sadness.  Her one year old niece has a severe birth defect and could die at any moment.  Because we do not really get to know the baby’s parents, the baby’s plight is not as poignant as it otherwise might have been.

Andrea can be difficult and selfish; she is by no means perfect, maybe more like a real woman. I give points to ‘All Grown Up’ for its amusing sincerity, but I did not feel that it transcended the daily here-and-now of this one person. Perhaps if there were another major character that could have interacted with Andrea as equals, not just someone for her to bounce her quips off of, the novel would have been more effective.  As it is, none of the other characters besides Andrea is developed beyond the sketchy. The novel could have used more dialogue so we might have gotten to really know the others rather than only as comic foils for Andrea.

 

Grade :   B

 

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