marginalia || This is Just Exactly Like You, by Drew Perry

I think I read This is Just Exactly Like You, debut novel by Drew Perry, over the span of a month. And though I am frankly not sure whether this is my problem–have been maddeningly busy these past couple of weeks–or the book’s. Still. I like this one enough–what I truly read of it. I mean, back in March, I was struggling not to read it: It was part of the line-up for the now-scrapped Awesome April plans. And now, well, yeah.

It’s pretty straightforward: Jack Lang is our madcap hero, whose life is rife with mad (or uninformed, or on-the-fly) decisions: He’d renovated his kitchen halfway just for the hell of it, he’s in the mulch business, he just bought the house directly across his–a house that looks exactly like the one he already has. And his wife, Beth left him for his best friend. And his son, lovable Hendrick, is autistic. And Rena, the girlfriend of his best friend, makes an appearance. Pretty much the stuff of drama.

There’s definitely echoes of Tom Perrotta here re that [potential for] drama–but Drew Perry is definitely funnier. If only because Jack Lang is funnier than any guy-in-the-domestic that I’ve read before. They’re usually moody and strange, aren’t they? And teetering towards one sort of addiction or the other. But Jack. Well, Jack just doesn’t make the right choices. Or at least us normal people think so. (Then again, I see nothing wrong with dressing a statue of a chipmunk in a shirt.)

It’s one of those books you expect to be funny one moment, and poignant the next. And generally, that’s what this is.

Jack’s pretty sure that he’s not that great a father, that he’s not in line for any parenting awards or special commendations. He’s not even sure he always tries as hard as he can. He’s maybe not Living quite Strong enough. Hen is, after all, sitting next to him, having only stopped bleeding from the head about fifteen minutes ago. But what he’s always liked about fatherhood, about Hendrick, is his company, his physical presence, even from the first day they brought him home from the hospital. It’s what surprised him most—not the overpowering love all the books required that he feel for his child—just that he simply liked being around him. And even with the diagnosis, or even since, there’s something a little joyous, alongside all the disaster, about living with Hendrick. Some feeling he gets about being in better or closer contact with the things we need, the things we want. I want to run the controls on the dump truck. I want to touch the faucet. I want to open the drawer three hundred times in a row. Because who doesn’t want that from time to time? To fall deeper in? Who doesn’t do it? Some mornings Jack taps his own spoon a few extra times on the rim of the cereal bowl just for the sheer pleasure of it, and then he’ll wonder what the space really is, after all, between tic and illness. Where biting your fingernails falls on the spectrum. Ticking the button on the emergency brake. Ordering salad dressing on the side, having a song stuck in your head, watching a ball game on mute.

The problem I have, though, is how Jack’s vividness and realness causes everyone else to pale in comparison. That’s a corny complaint: Your main character is so awesomely written, and he makes the rest just blah. But it was ultimately the reason why I had to skim the last hundred pages or so. Yes, yes, yes, I realize that this is could partly be attributed to how Jack sees the world and the people around him (the novel is, erm, third person limited-Jack)–but the rest of the characters of the novel suffered. Hendrick was adorable though–the boy gives you wonders to gape at every other page or so. Jack’s co-workers at his mulch business were well-written too–if only because you know that as second characters, they were enough. They filled their roles, and then some.

But Beth, and Rena, and Canavan (the best friend)? Not so much. I would’ve gone with it all–the whole husband-and-wife at odds thing, the whole complicatedness of the set-up between four friends.  But Beth never became more than The Wife Who Got Fed Up and Moved In With The Best Friend. Rena was–I have no other word for it–an abrupt character (which is not to say that she appears very little between the pages; her personality is abrupt [don’t ask me to clarify, haha]).

Judgment is, of course, not final. To be fair to the novel, I read it in the span of a month. That’s a long-ass time to read anything in SashaLand. Around the time that I decided to just skim, though, I was thinking, “Yes, I know I’m distracted–but isn’t it your job to monopolize all my attention?” I demand much, I know. La-dee-dah.

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