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Screw being likeable: All Grown Up

Last week, I promised that when I got home from the lake, I would actually come to this space and blog about some of the books that I read.

Finally, here I am. Better late than never. Although I think the absence probably tormented me more than it did you.

At the last minute, I decided to tuck Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up into my bag. It ended up being a glorious addition – I even got to enjoy it in the sunshine for about an hour!

allgrownup

Andrea, our heroine, has left her art grad program and moved back to New York City to start a corporate job and live on her own for the first time in her life. And while the lives of her friends, colleagues, mother and brother all move forward, she’s stuck in this cycle of lovers, work projects and gentrification in the neighbourhood she’s calling home. Each chapter tackles an event or person in her life and together, they put the pieces of her life together for the reader.

Before I read this book, I kept hearing about people not enjoying it or not finishing it because they didn’t find the heroine “likeable.” This is something we all need to stop doing eh? Heroines don’t need to be likeable. Is Holden Caulfield likeable? What about Gatsby? Heathcliffe and Mr Rochester kind of suck. But they don’t have to be likeable because they are male. We need to extend the same courtesy to heroines. Women have layers – let us showcase them in all their unlikeable glory.

Maybe you realize now that I am not one of the people that felt this way. I love how contrary and messy and sharp Andrea is. I love that she avoids her family, is very clear eyed about how her relationships with women change once they get married and have babies, and how she kind-of-but-not-really laments that she took a corporate world job instead of slaving away as a starving artist.

All Grown Up leaves breadcrumbs of a life in each chapter – something casually mentioned in one chapter becomes the focus in another so that in the end, you get the whole picture. It was unexpected in a myriad of ways – I didn’t expect to be as affected by it as I was. It was both funnier and more serious than I thought it would be.

Oh yes, Attenberg has gifted us with a brilliant, incisive, hilarious, wonderful book about a woman living her own life and giving no f*cks, except when she does. I loved it.

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42

Unlikeable Narrators: Summer House With Swimming Pool

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House of Canada in return for an honest review.

There seems to be an appetite amongst readers these days for books that deal with unlikeable narrators.

I’m not complaining. An imperfect, kind of horrible narrator makes for an interesting read. We were all introduced to Dutch author’s Herman Koch’s work through the terrifyingly brilliant The Dinner. Just in time for summer we have Summer House With Swimming Pool.

summer house

Marc is a doctor. His practice is mostly made up of artistic folks: writers, actors and artists who drink too much and visit him for prescriptions that will help with the side effects of drinking too much. He thinks he is better than his patients. When we first meet Marc, a patient of his, the famous actor Ralph Meier, has just died after a brief illness. Marc is supposed to go in front of the Medical Board because there is the possibility that there was some negligence that accelerated the illness.

As he ponders the possible decision of the Medical Board, he goes back through the last 18 months of his life – to the night when he and his wife went to an opening night of Ralph’s play; to the night of the first invitation to look in on them at their vacation home; to the night of the fireworks. Marc tells us how things came to be the way that they are, while waxing poetic about the foibles of men and women.

Like in The Dinner, the blanks of the present day are filled in with the narrator’s remembrances of days gone by. The characters are also cast in the same vein as Koch’s other book: I can’t think of one character that’s really likeable. And while I can’t say that I personally connected with any of the characters, I can say that I really enjoyed the ride.

There are so many twists and turns in this story. You think you have it figured out and you think that the rest of the book will just carry on in this same vein but Koch isn’t finished yet. I found that Marc’s relationship with the women in his life, his two daughters on the verge of womanhood, his wife Caroline who gets frustrated with his permanent role as the good guy, Ralph’s wife Judith who irritates and fascinates him equally, changes throughout the book. He has to decide what he’s going to be to each woman, how he’s going to react to the things that happen to them – will he act like society expects him to or will he give in to the animal instincts that his medical school professor was always going on about?

I really like Koch’s unapologetic style of writing. He seems to say “if you don’t like this, I don’t care. It’s my story.” And I agree that it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you can get into it, I personally think it’s a thought-provoking read that’s sure to start a discussion with fellow readers.