I’m excited to welcome New York Times best-selling author Jami Attenberg today as part of the blog tour for her latest novel, All Grown Up. Here’s who and what it’s all about:
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. Told in gut-wrenchingly honest language that shimmers with rage and intimacy, All Grown Up poses such questions as:
– What if I don’t want to hold your baby?
– Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce?
– What can I demand of my mother now that I am an adult?
– Is therapy pointless?
– At what point does drinking a lot become a drinking problem?
– Why does everyone keep asking me why I am not married?
“I’m alone. 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.”
Andrea walks and talks off the page right from the very beginning of the book. She’s such a ferociously real character that I still imagine her stalking around her NYC haunts. How did you come to her as your protagonist, and then go about putting together her background and choosing the stories she would tell the reader?
I tend to write short stories when I finish a novel in order to cleanse the palate between books. I wrote a story cycle from the perspective of an unnamed, single, childfree woman watching her friend achieve traditional milestones in life, i.e. get married, have a baby, etc. It was interesting to explore it but I didn’t want to write a book about it. After 150 pages of two other book projects I finally decided to go back to the book after giving it another stab. I figured out I didn’t have to write a single girl in the city book, that there was a way to break it and reinvent it. Part of that comes with the structure of the book, it being told in time-shifting short vignettes, as opposed to a linear narrative. As to how I put together her background, I have lived in New York City for eighteen years, so the landscape was all there for me. And then I just began to invent.
One of the aspects of reading All Grown Up I enjoyed was getting into the head of someone who lives a different life to my own. Andrea’s observations of the people and life around her were often acerbic, but at other times, really resonated with me: two examples that spring to mind are when Andrea talks about getting a gift for her friend who’s having a baby, and in particular, the way in which we lose some friends in life and how we’re unable to do anything to prevent that happening. What are you hoping your readers take away from reading All Grown Up?
Oh I think each reader is going to take away from it whatever they want to take away from it, or perhaps are capable of taking away from it. I can’t control that. I was trying to present a version of a modern woman and human being and all her flaws and strengths and also all the challenges and pressures she faces in society. I’ve been told it’s educating for some, and I’ve been told it’s validating for others. The book is going to do different things for different kinds of people. I certainly hope people enjoy the book too, though. It was meant to move quickly and be entertaining and consuming.
Does a main character have to be likeable or someone we can sympathise with? Or is it enough to recognise some traits in them we can identify with or recognise a person we know in them?
I personally am not interested in reading about completely likeable people. I think for a book to work we merely have to find a character interesting. The classic example of this is Humbert Humbert in Lolita. He’s a child molester, yet we want to spend an entire book with him because of the way it is written. But that’s me. Again, people can only be who they are, and bring their own desires to a reading of a book. It’s possible you could only want a character who is perfect and charming and a delight. But that’s not the kind of fictional reality I’m interested in writing or reading.
“I’m squeezing my brain so hard trying to work out what’s next.”
My thanks to Jami for such great answers to my questions. Here’s my review of All Grown Up:
All Grown Up is a book as fast-paced as the city where it’s set, and feels as though it opens mid-conversation. It’s as if you join Andrea in a busy bar where people are pushing past you and moving you out of earshot, or she’s making her way along the city’s streets and crosswalks, with you trying to keep up against wave upon wave of New Yorkers coming the other way. And you don’t want to miss what Andrea says, not for a minute. She’s compulsive reading. She hasn’t got it all worked out by conventional standards but who’s to say that’s how her life should be measured?
Andrea’s bold, bright, witty, unapologetic and charismatic. She can be too much for you at times but you’re drawn to her all the same. You don’t have to be single or a woman or in your late thirties or childless or living in New York to find a truth that resonates. You don’t have to be like her or even like her to identify with something here: you’ll flinch at her insight, laugh at some of her observations and nod when she explains something you’ve been at a loss to find a way to put into words until now. (I’ll be calling lost friends “architects” from now on thanks to Andrea and, of course, her creator.)
It would be easy to inhale All Grown Up but I wanted to savour it and, happily, Jami Attenberg has structured the book into episodes or vignettes. These make sense as a way for Andrea to introduce us to herself and her life. When we get to know anyone, we don’t hear their life story chronologically, but in random episodes from the stock of stories they hold. Andrea shifts back and forth in time, revisiting some stories to add more detail or help us see it from a different perspective.
All Grown Up is a fast, fierce and funny look at one woman’s approach to navigating adulthood through the highs, lows, and potential hazards of love, sex, relationships, friendship, family, creativity, work, and having a social life in modern society. All Grown Up is Andrea owning whatever she makes, whether it’s a choice, a mistake, a piece of art, a lifestyle; it’s about living on her own terms and being accountable to herself, rather than society’s expectations of her. All Grown Up is the book you want your friends to read, so you can all talk about it and share your favourite bits.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg is published by Serpent’s Tail, an imprint of Profile Books, in the UK. It is available as an ebook and in hardback from Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery.
Jami Attenberg is the New York Times best-selling author of five novels, including The Middlesteins and Saint Mazie. She has contributed essays about sex, urban life, and food to the New York Times Magazine, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and Lenny Letter, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
The All Grown Up Blog tour runs from 3 -12 April. Check out all the participating blogs below: