Review by Booklist Review
Novelist Attenberg (All This Could Be Yours, 2019) offers up a memoir-in-essays reflecting, at midlife, on writing, creativity, travel, and singledom. Characters in her fiction tend to be flawed and sprung from difficult families, and while Attenberg's family is surprisingly lovely, she presents herself as she would a character, warts and all. Seeming to be looking for something but not sure what, she uproots herself, with a stint couch-surfing at an age that many would consider too old, travels extensively (often on a book tour) in search of new experiences, and contemplates her lifelong craft. While she does have relationships, she mostly lives and travels alone, finding solitude but also confronting a society that questions the standing of a single woman. Attenberg tends to make friends wherever she goes, which is no surprise given that her frank and charming writing creates an intimacy with the reader. A fantastic choice for those who love writers' memoirs, such as Alexander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (2018), or an autobiographical ode to single ladies like Glynnis MacNicol's No One Tells You This (2018).
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Novelist Attenberg (All Grown Up) meditates on the virtues and vices of an unscripted life in this sparkling memoir. In vivid essays, Attenberg recalls her couch-surfing years in her 20s, an assault she survived in college ("That moment remains a burning hot coal in my chest"), and teaching fiction in Vilnius, Lithuania, as a "newly moderately successful writer" in 2013. She writes of her decision to eschew tradition in pursuit of art and adventure, but how, at age 40, she began to envy her more grounded, married friends: "I did not want... the husband, the kids. But I did want that refrigerator full of food." The tension between rootedness and wanderlust makes for brisk descriptions of locale: from Brooklyn on the cusp of gentrification, where she "had birthdays... and went broke several times," to New Orleans, where she wrote "religiously, daily," to a chapel made of bones in Portugal. Though her narrative flits around in time and space, her writing emerges as a bedrock from which to both grow and settle into. From the vantage point of 2020, she observes: "We are all homebound.... We can't go back to the same way.... Everything is just sideways." Tilted or upright, Attenberg's story shines with wit and empathy. Agent: Doug Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Jan.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
In this latest work, novelist Attenberg (The Middlesteins; Saint Mazie) bravely shares the many lives she has lived at once--jobs held, identities navigated, homes left and returned to, hopes lost and found--all in order to support and sustain herself as a writer. She weaves together stories from her childhood with moments of raw self-examination and social critique in ways that pull her readers close to her, while always reminding them that they cannot truly share in the struggle, the fight that makes her stories so urgent. Readers follow along as she traces her path to becoming a writer, from shelving books at a local college library in her native California, to teaching fiction in Lithuania, where she began to explore her own personal family history as the descendent of Russian immigrants. Her memoir is a travelogue of sorts, taking her to Germany and Italy and more, as she navigates friendships, relationships, and her own writing career. VERDICT What Attenberg has learned about being a writer and a human offers a valuable lesson for readers seeking wholeness, healing, self-expression, and strength. The result is a humorous memoir of transformation that will delight a range of readers.--Emily Bowles, Lawrence Univ., WI
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A novelist at midlife takes stock of her personal history and accomplishments. In this extended reflection, Attenberg offers fans of her fiction the opportunity to get to know her more intimately. "I own these words. I own these ideas. Here is my book." With these sentences, the prologue to the author's debut memoir closes on a note of anxious self-assertion that becomes more pronounced as the narrative progresses. A loose chronicle of her jobs, homes, and travels, the book is divided into three parts that cover similar ground chronologically. Attenberg mentions several friendships with other writers--some warmly, other less so. "Writers meet for drinks for different reasons," she explains, recalling an essayist who arranged a meeting to ferret out the secret of her success with a book that appears to be The Middlesteins (2012)--though her novels are not named in this book. Attenberg criticizes the other writer for wanting to pick her brain "as if [it] were a carryout salad." Later, after receiving a copy of Olive Kitteridge, she writes, "we receive so much from other writers when they show us how it's done….We must chew on the words of others." In another passage, Attenberg remembers a college classmate who was at first a friend but then assaulted her; the man had recently committed suicide. "Then I read a status update on Facebook by someone who had been in our writing program," she writes, "and he mourned him and said, 'He was the best writer in our class,' and I wanted to fucking scream, because I was the best writer in our class." At the end, Attenberg provides a summary of her flaws and judgment errors, wondering if she deserves to be happy. Though she is "a better person now," she "will never be perfect." Nobody is, but readers of the author's wonderful novels may expect more. The virtues of Attenberg's fiction--story, characters, black humor--are largely missing in her first nonfiction book. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.