I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg review – a writer looking for a home | Autobiography and memory

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Aaccording to the authors of And just like that, HBO is fascinating and appalling Sex and the city reboot, it’s really perfectly easy to find contentment as a middle-aged single woman. In episode four, recently widowed Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) returns to her old bachelor apartment, a place she kept (because she is wealthy) without a tenant after her marriage. There, after having slept soundly for the first time in weeks, she dons a long tulle skirt that makes her look a bit like a fairy, and heads to her local bodega for free coffee from her gracious owner. There is, one cannot help but notice, a spring in his step now, and so the unfortunate spectator receives the message loud and clear. Happiness, it seems, is just a matter of determination. Quickly don your favorite extravagant clothes, a paper cup in your right hand and a cell phone in your left, and the daily rapture will be yours.

In his new book, I have come all this way to meet you: write to me at home, American novelist Jami Attenberg has a lot to say about writing; ostensibly, his first non-fiction work is determined to take a hard look at the creative life, and all that such an existence entails (in short: a lot of hard work, a certain amount of luck, and very little money). Daughter of a salesperson, she is also interested in a certain fleetingness. For many years she struggled to settle down. Attenberg was 45 years old before owning a bed; she has already slept in 26 different places in seven months. In the end, however, she just can’t help it. The truth must be told.

Ultimately, her memoir is about what it’s like not to have, or even a lot of wanting, all of the things that are supposed to make a woman complete. While it’s wonderful to be free – to be the kind of unicorn who judges yourself, not by the putrid benchmarks of a sexist society, but by your own standards – that doesn’t mean it isn’t. also, sometimes, painful. . For Attenberg, as for Carrie Bradshaw, happiness and loneliness are not mutually exclusive. But as she also notes, expressing such truth in public for the first time can still “feel like a specific kind of death.” Her memoirs are, in other words, a powerful antidote to the pernicious fantasies of the skirt-tulle-and-soy-latte genre.

I don’t mean it’s a criticism when I say Attenberg’s book has a messy and naïve structure. Yes, his tale, which repeatedly moves through time, is often likely to seem repetitive, and maybe accompanied by one too many Zoom reunions (it’s sort of a pandemic book, I think). But such turmoil reflects its subject: the sublets that come and go; the thousands of kilometers traveled in search of tiny sales during bookstore readings (it wasn’t until 2013, when her fourth novel, The Middlestein, appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, that Attenberg had something that even approached literary success). When success finally arrives, our former couch surfer finds out that she can’t say no, and thanks to it, she attends literary festivals all over the world and teaches creative writing in Vilnius, Lithuania. Stealing causes her intense anxiety, but she does it anyway, relying on Xanax “borrowed” from friends – she has so much! – to see it through.

For Jami Attenberg, “happiness and loneliness are not mutually exclusive”. Photography: John Traviesa

What she needs, she realizes, as the “vibes” of her youth finally begin to fade, is a home. She doesn’t want rugs littered with toys; marital comfort (sufficiency?) is not for her. But there was a while, staying at a friend’s house in Evanston, Ill., Where she considered the contents of a family refrigerator – six packs of yogurt, freshly squeezed juice, an entire drawer devoted to cheese – and feels a touch of envy. Where is her place? For a long time this will be a loft in (pre-gentrification) Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a dilapidated cave with all thin walls and pipes exposed, described in a love letter that is one of the best writings in his book. Ultimately, however, that won’t work. It is in New Orleans that she will buy her own room, with a view of hummingbirds and medlar trees. The resistance you detect in her when she writes about this beloved house – she has always had a room of her own in her head, she insists – only makes it sweeter than you read it.

Likewise, his mirth – his utter disdain for self-pity – only serves to make the sad parts of his book more cruel. Those who like Attenberg’s novels – for me, All grown up (2017) is one of the best, most spirited, and enjoyable books ever written about a predominantly single woman – I’ll recognize its tone here, though parts of this work border on self-obsession (not that I particularly the blame for being egocentric; this is also something that society imposes on women, as we can never live up to expectations, always falling back on self-recrimination, self-improvement and, worst of all, hour-by-hour analyzes of our moods). Attenberg tells it all – the bad guys and bad friends, the sexual assaults and the restaurants that don’t provide a table for one – in a way that is both sort of calculating, dramatic as it sounds, and effortless. relaxed. Haven’t these things happened to all women? If they are serious, they are also daily.

She’s very funny, and that’s what makes her wonderful. When a man she’s about to sleep with for the first time – “we headed for nudity” – suddenly produces a brown paper bag in her bed, all she can ask herself is if there is a sandwich in it. In fact, it contains an unsolicited sex toy. I burst out laughing about it. Right here is the kind of determination that I favor. Life is funny and spooky (or, if you prefer, eerie funny). Forget it, and like the writers who are now desperately trying to make Sarah Jessica Parker relevant again, you have what Attenberg would undoubtedly call Bad Art.

I have come all this way to meet you: write to me at home by Jami Attenberg is published by Serpent’s Tail (£ 14.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy on guardbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply


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