All Grown Up
By Jami Attenberg
If you are an artist, but you can’t create art. If you have sex but can’t get into love and commitment. If you have a family but you can’t acknowledge you love them and wish to be part of their lives. If you know from experience and from your childhood that alcohol and drugs will hurt you but you use them anyway. If you get a good paying job as a designer in advertising and you hate but keep it just because it pays. If you do all these things (and, really, who doesn’t do a few of them?), aren’t you just passing through life? And, if you are anything like Andrea Bern, Jami Attenberg’s sharp witted protagonist, you obsess on these things, on your meandering and stumbling journey to age forty.
It will probably come as no surprise to anybody that the vast majority of reviewers, professional and avid reader types, are women. But this doesn’t mean that All Grown Up is what the trade calls Chic Lit. Readers will not find the typical wacky, iconoclastic woman here (though Andrea certainly seems that way, at first), but rather, someone trying to sort out her life, without much success. She claims to know what’s wrong, but does she? If she does, why doesn’t she fix the wrongs? There is no neat, tied-with-a-bow ending here.
Nor does it mean that it’s a novel men won’t enjoy and maybe learn from. Men, generally, even male novelists, don’t do a lot of baring of the soul of the type you’ll find in this novel (though sometimes they do, as in Chris Bachelder’s very good The Throwback Special), and usually aren’t comfortable with the level of introspection and self-knowledge on exhibition in Andrea. You know, maybe they should be. Maybe reading Attenberg’s novel would be a good experience a type of emotional liberation. And it helps that Attenberg is a terrific writer, terrific with The Middlesteins, and as terrific here with a novel about a woman who knows and doesn’t know herself. wp