Review: All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 12.26.22 PM“I can’t wait for summer,” I say longingly to my cousin as we gaze out the window, the sun peaking out its rays for the first time this week. “I hate to do that—wish for time to pass on to something else—but honestly. Summer is the best, and the rest of the year is just kind of blegh. Is this what being an adult is?”

“Yep,” she answers, mock-enthusiastically.

“Well then shit! We’re all screwed.” Quickly, I shift the conversation to something about food—something that makes everyone happy—so that we can push past this awfully depressing representation of adulthood.

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up is Andrea Berg’s representation of what it means to be a grown up, and, for her, that has meant a couple decades of giving up her love, her art; attempting to find love, by dating varied and multiple men; and learning what it means to let go of love through tumultuous family relationships and hardships. While her life doesn’t necessarily lead her to my paradigm, it’s certainly another perspective than happily ever after.

For more on All Grown Up, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 7th, 2017, continue… 

All Grown Up is, stylistically speaking, the perfect weekend read: just under 200 pages; short, vignette chapters; and simple first-person narration. Under the veil of this simple design, Attenberg has illustrated just one character’s frustrations with growing up, aging, family, and the struggles of existence. But in that one character lays all of us.

Andrea is not me, but I am Andrea, if that makes any sense at all. Attenberg includes so many of the nuances of her narrator, Andrea, that it would be hard for one to read the book and not see a corollary to his or her self.

Andrea was once an graduate student studying art, and that was her passion, her muse. Through a series of life events she drops out of graduate school and, miraculously (and with much help), lands a job that allows her to stay in New York City. She dates. She works. She does not do art.

She’s existing, like we all are, but she isn’t sure what in the hell she’s doing. (Like we all are.) Except Andrea, present day, is nearly forty years old. Shouldn’t she have it figured out?

The plot seems simple; it seems as if you’re reading about a woman’s comeuppance in a city so unlike where many of us non-urban dwellers live. And while this book isn’t the insightful, deep detailed prose of which I’m used to, it has no less reflective qualities than a memoir with a life story mirrored after mine.

Whatever thrill I had in perfecting my job is now dead, because perfection itself is boring; it’s only everything leading up to it that’s interesting (104).

We all have the friends that have kids and we expect to not see them again for years. We all have friends get married, falling into another existence entirely than when we knew them prior. We all have jobs with which we’re not enraptured, and we all wonder if we’re meant to do something else, move somewhere else, be someone else, etc.

Andrea’s life is drastic in many ways. She loses her father to a drug overdose in her twenties. She slips and slides her way through her twenties with visits to many others’ beds, still finding no answers to her questions.

And yet. She lives completely the way she wants, and not necessarily hedonistically. She simply lives on her own terms, and if this book is of any value to any reader I feel we can all respect her drive, desires, and absolute lack of apology for living her own way. Like the rest of us, she’s terrified of following her art dreams, but in the mean time she’s certainly living her life. If anything, the novel offers that to all readers.

What if I start making art again? What if I just did that? That is the thing I love, that is the thing I miss the most. For so long I have believed I could never catch up, but now I realize there’s nothing to catch up to, there’s only what I choose to make. There’s still time, I think. I have so much time left (176).

A quick and insightful read, but not one I’d recommend if you don’t want to think about your own life.

If you’re in denial, are burying family issues, or like to delude yourself and say “you’re perfectly happy,” well, this might not be the book for you. Because if you can’t be honest with yourself, what do you expect a novel to tell you?

I received my copy of All Grown Up through Book of The Month subscription service, available here

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