I’m pleased to be able to share a extract from Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up today. The back of the book says “Andrea is a single, childless 39-year-old woman who tries to navigate family, sexuality, friendships and a career she never wanted, but battles with thoughts and desires that few people would want to face up to.” All Grown Up is published today by Serpent’s Tail in hardback and as an e-book. You can order a copy online by clicking here. Read on for a flavour of the book.
A book is published. It’s a book about being single, written by an extremely attractive woman who is now married, and it is a critical yet wistful remembrance of her uncoupled days. I have no interest in reading this book. I am already single. I have been single a long time. There is nothing this book can teach me about being single that I don’t already know.
Regardless, everyone I know tells me about this book. They are like carrier pigeons, fluttering messages, doing the bidding of a wicked media maestro on a rooftop in midtown Manhattan. Nothing will stop them from reaching their destination, me, their presumed target demographic.
My coworker Nina, the bangles on her wrist clinking, hands me her copy when she’s finished with it, even though I have never expressed an interest in reading it, let alone discussed it with her. She is newly single, and she is twentyfour. A woman who was not newly single, and also not twenty-four, would know better than to hand this book to another single woman.
My mother orders a copy for me online and it shows up one day, a surprise in the mail, without a note or a name attached, and it takes me a week to figure out who sent it to me. The whole time I am thinking: A ghost sent me this book. A ghost wants me to think about being single.
Finally my mother confesses she sent it. (She does not see it as a confession, of course. I am the only one who sees it that way.) “Did you get the book?” she asks. “Oh, you sent the book,” I say. “Mom, why would you send a book like that to me?” “I thought it would be helpful,” she says.
My sister-in-law, who lives in the hinterlands of New Hampshire and who has dedicated her life to taking care of her dying child, my niece, and spends her days contemplating mortality, mentions this book to me on the phone during my weekly Sunday phone call to her home. “Have you heard about this book?” she says. “Yes,” I say. “I have heard about the book.”
Old college friends post links to reviews of it on my Facebook wall and say things like, “Sounds like something you’d like,” or “This reminded me of you.” I think, Am I supposed to like this? I don’t, in fact, like it. I dislike it. Where is my dislike button? Where do I click to scream?
I go to my therapist and say, “Why is being single the only thing people think of when they think of me? I’m other things, too.”
And this delights her, this old, wry, wrinkled, brainy bitch. This feels like a breakthrough, at the very least a valuable exercise, a teachable moment. Something. This is a change in our conversation. An assertion is being made, a thesis statement about my life, finally. “Tell me who you are, then,” she says. “What other statements are true?”
“Well, I’m a woman,” I say.
“I work in advertising as a designer.”
“I’m technically a Jew.”
“I’m a New Yorker.”
I start to feel unsettled. Surely I am more than that.
“I’m a friend,” I say. “I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m an aunt.” Those things feel farther away lately, but they exist as part of my identity.
In my head I think:
I’m a drinker.
I’m a former artist.
I’m a shrieker in bed.
I’m the captain of the sinking ship that is my flesh.
To my therapist I say, “I’m a brunette.”