This is a terrible title. I sampled the blurb at BEA and thought, This sounds like me, but back at the hostel my sister and I both put it on the Accidentally Forget To Bring Home pile a few times before I ultimately packed it.
Here’s my situation, tubelettes: I graduated in April with an English BA (second in uselessness only to an Art History degree) and we’re moving in August so there was no way I could get a real job like a grown-up. I’ve been working off and on for one of my professors, and some weeks I work 9-5 and volunteer and have house guests and coffee dates and every few hours I have to eat and my eating choices mean I have to jog and it all gets to be a bit much, and then some weeks I tinker around the house, sorting filing cabinets and reading YA novels.
Which is to say SOME WEEKS I am Dominique Browning, freewheeling and bored in my own house with no sense of direction and no whips to crack or be cracked at and it is UNSETTLING. And I am only twenty-nine, whereas Browning, when she lost her job editing House & Garden, was fifty-some-odd.
And I thought this would be way more self-helpish, a brand of book which I both abhor and secretly cannot stop reading. (Organizing books make me feel organized! Diet books make me feel thin! You have too much sway over my brains, my bound-paper-packets.) But it unspools like a novel, like Browning is her own character whom she watches eat peanut butter on a china plate, and whose flashbacks she teases out to explain how she got to this mental state. Somehow this makes it feel less self-indulgent, and also more fun because I don’t feel like I’m supposed to be Improving.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t good snatchy bits. She has a bit where she discovers baking and is like DUDE I CAN MAKE MUFFINS AND THEY ARE BOTH DELICIOUS AND USEFUL and is going on about how she likes to lay out the ingredients in the morning so that she can look at them all day and think of making muffins later, and how you should ‘[d]o anything…to heighten the ceremonial quality of your endeavor.’ This is a sentiment I could (very ceremoniously) make into a sandwich and eat, because I love ceremony and pomp but I rush through All The Things that I have to do anyways when I could be making them into little rituals to enjoy. It’s the difference between bolting your coffee from the carafe and sitting down in an armchair with a proper mug. Even when I have nothing but time, I reach instinctively for the carafe.
It’s honest without being earnest. I am allergic to earnestness. It always seems feigned. I will partake of your emotions but I will leave your pathos on the plate, thanks. And while it’s not, as the NYRB says, ‘pungently witty’ (ew), it is sly and clever and a good read for the reading’s sake. She’s revelling in the grocery store and is all, I know it’s de rigeur to bemoan the extinction of our zillion varieties of apples, but dude, there are, like, ten varieties right here. With even this meagre plenitude, ‘[h]ow is anyone supposed to remember that Pink Ladies are the ones you don’t like?’
And there is a certain slant of upper-classedness that is going to het some people up. The kind that allows women of a particular stamp to poke around their empty houses and drink bottles of wine and finally find their souls by gardening, instead of frantically combing through the want ads – not to fill their days and give their lives purpose, but to pay for those bottles of wine. And I’ve read the ur-privileged-white-lady-finds-self text, I know how the ring of self-indulgent grousing can stain the collar, but this did not grate me in that same way. Something about Slow Love felt lost and laughingly desperate where That Other One just felt exploitative.
Ultimately this will be right up your wandering alley, not applicable but interesting nonetheless, or the sort of upper-class whining with which you will not put, as varies your mileage. It made subtle jokes directed at where I sit, which I dig.