My totally honest review of All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg would be short.
I’m infuriated that I did not write it.
All Grown Up is a novel about choosing an unconventional life. About what really happens when you decide that you are not going to get married, or stay married, or have children, and what happens when you do not have the confidence to pursue your dream as an artist. This novel is not about me, but it felt like it was about me, and not just because I am also a self-involved mess. I was at dinner with some friends recently and one who I had not seen for a couple of years asked me what I had been up to. I was gearing up to talk about a new job and a recent trip to Italy when suddenly another friend jumps in loudly with “SHE IS STILL SINGLE”. I was horrified. Not just at the fact that every table turned to gawk at the pathetic singleton who must be too hideous to love, but at the thought that anyone would define my life by who I might be currently sleeping with. I think this happens a lot – certainly I think there are people who do not understand choosing a life that is not conventional. It is somehow easier for those people to think of our choices as a consolation or disappointment, being single and childless is a result of our failure to obtain your level of happiness. Not to get all Schopenhauer on your ass, but maybe this helps people feel better about their choices, and it sucks.
Our heroine Andrea (she even used my name, but weirdly in this story no one repeatedly calls her OnDreyA like in my life) Bern is about to turn 40. Surely this is grown up, but it sometimes does not seem like it to her friends and family. She is single and genuinely does not want to be married. She will never have children because she does not want children. She is doing well working at a good job in advertising, but wishes she were painting. She has carved out a life for herself in New York with family and friends and yet most of the people around her just really wish that she would settle down and do all the things she does not have any intention of doing.
All Grown Up is a series of interconnected stories (or a novel of vignettes or whatever the hell we are calling this now) that are not linear in time, which is a format that I’m starting to get used to. There is also no dialogue, which is another format I will love until the day, I die but I know annoys other people. The recurring characters are her father, mother, brother, best friend and coworkers, and they are all layered and complex. It is quite funny in a very dark way and it is uncomfortably honest. Andrea as a character is a bit frustrating and annoying, but she really is doing her best.
I really enjoyed these stories, the writing is just fabulous. I am going to guess that this book will be divisive – even glancing at Goodreads shows me a lot of 4/5 and a lot of 2/3 so I am guessing your opinion of this book will very much depend on your state of mind and level of happiness. Ultimately I think this is a story about connectedness and what that looks like when it doesn’t look the same as everyone else’s.
All Grown Up – Grade B+