I’m taking a couple of weeks to recover from some surgery, so catching up on reading novels in the women’s family drama genre is this week’s major accomplishment.
Jami Attenberg’s 2019 novel, her 7th, published by Houghton Mifflin Hardcourt, arrived in my mailbox last month and rose to the top of the reading pile. She’s obviously a rather successful, traditionally published novelist, so I expected to both enjoy her storytelling and glean tips for writing in the genre with All This Could Be Yours:
It’s a mother/daughter multi-generational tale set mostly in New Orleans where Attenberg lives. Alex, the late-thirties protagonist vs Barbara, the late-sixties antagonist, plus an adolescent daughter, Avery, form the female triangle. Victor, the criminally cruel father/husband, introduced first, serves as the fulcrum they rotate around.
Alex joins her parents in N.O. after her father has a fatal heart attack. Jumping between present and past, she decides to review her nuclear family’s history, in an attempt to chart her future. The cover depicts the device, Barbara’s storage unit, used to secure the family’s assets. The women’s journaling is another device used to hide and reveal the family’s secrets.
Many other characters make appearances. There’s a missing brother, a sister-in-law, an ex-husband, friends, a cousin, lovers, and even the coroner who does Victor’s autopsy. New Orleans also acts as a character with Attenberg imbuing the story with its history, climate, and culture. Additional settings, from Connecticut to Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and Alabama add to the mé·lange.
While I found several scenes useful to my current writing project, in the end, as a reader, I was confused. Alex doesn’t seem to make much progress along an arc. Barbara is freed from the marriage she enslaved herself in but reverts to her previous life (sans Victor) without much personal growth. We skip ahead years to watch Avery and her cousin transit through teens and twenties in a stereotypical fashion.
The theme, if I can call it that, seems to be the harm men do to women, or is it the poor choices women make about men? Not real uplifting, even if true. I rather like the way it’s structured, with sections labeled as a day’s segments, Morning to Midnight.
Anyone else read All This Could Be Yours? Or other Jami Attenberg novels?
Happy to hear your thoughts, Leah