Tri­als of keep­ing up with New York times

All Grown Up

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Jami At­ten­berg

Ser­pent’s Tail, £12.99

Re­viewed by Madeleine Kings­ley

JEWISH NEW York surely abounds in sin­gle women doc­u­ment­ing their sleek and sassy lives on Face­book. Not so An­drea, the sto­ry­teller in Jami At­ten­berg’s All Grown Up. In the universal marathon to ma­tu­rity, An­drea is “the one get­ting left be­hind” as her peers race ef­fort­lessly to­wards pro­mo­tion, fall in love with Wall Street money, hy­phen­ate their names and breast-feed sweet-creamsmelling ba­bies in Tribeca lofts.

As for her own du­bi­ous ac­cou­trements of adulthood, An­drea has onoff ther­apy, a sheaf of not-saleablee­nough draw­ings (all of the Em­pire State Build­ing) — an erst­while drug dealer, some dud lovers, the leather re­cliner in which her fa­ther died of an over­dose and a mother who is Not Happy. An­drea is a boozy, cool, heroic loser and you’ll love her, cer­tainly from the mo­ment she sends this text to ev­ery­one she knows; “My mother is try­ing to mur­der me with her emo­tions. Please send help.”

If you have read Meet the Mid­dlesteins, in which a food-ob­sessed ma­tri­arch come to the very grief she gives out, then you will al­ready know At­ten­berg as the ul­ti­mate un­spar­ing por­trayer of fam­ily dys­func­tion.

I caught my­self laugh­ing, and ap­palled to be so, as An­drea’s dis­as­ters un­folded with off-beat, comedic charm. All Grown Up has no chrono­log­i­cal plot — its chap­ters are tell-tale tableaux that duck and weave through time, colour­ing in the key en­coun­ters that have shaped An­drea and con­spired to leave her feel­ing al­ways “the one left be­hind”.

There was the day she cut school to fol­low her er­rant fa­ther and found him up to some­thing dodgy with a rack­ety ac­tor. Her wid­owed mother could barely put food on the table, so hosted par­ties to which creepy men came, paid, and mo­lested An­drea’s innocence.

There’s Nina the co-worker in the hot, tight lilac dress who pre­tends to be Nina’s con­fi­dante, but shares su­pe­rior pil­low talk with their boss. There’s the ther­a­pist who opines “No, they don’t” when An­drea says of her un­sat­is­fac­tory love in­ter­ests: “If you add them all up they equal half a boyfriend.” There’s the end of her friend­ship with best mate and yoga guru, In­digo, whose new baby trans­forms her into a dis­tant, blissed-out alien. An­drea thinks scathing thoughts when vis­it­ing this in­fant who, In­digo coos, has the wis­dom of ages in his tiny eyes. And yet An­drea finds her­self un­ac­count­ably in tears.

Or not so un­ac­count­ably… for An­drea’s brother and his gor­geous wife Greta who are in­deed fully grown up, have a baby daugh­ter who, we know pretty much from the out­set, will not long sur­vive. This is the tragedy that An­drea, through all the protest and clam­our of her ur­ban dis­tress, re­sists con­fronting. Un­fath­omable grief re­ally does be­long to grown-ups. It may break them, but At­ten­berg leaves you won­der­ing if, in the end, it may also make them.

Madeleine Kings­ley is a free­lance re­viewer

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