“If you like weird things, you’ll like this book.” That was the clarion call that made me crack this spine. It was also what held me when two months had passed and I still hadn’t finished it. I want to be a weirdo. And, in the past, when I’ve tried weird things and hated them (Wiretap by Jonathan Goldstein, films by Guy Maddin), I have eventually come around to their brilliance. I believe in the brilliance of this novel. It was hard to pick up and easy to put down, but I believe in its brilliance.
(“Please Do Not Touch The Moss” Photo: Amy Attas)
You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine is set in a place like New York, in a time like ours. At first it reminded me of the TV show Girls, where female millennials share apartments, cling to relationships with shitty men, and have money for everything even though they never seem to work. The female narrator and her roommate enjoy putting their TV on channel-seek to watch it automatically click through every station, one second at a time. This pastime, and this world, piss me off as a reader because they’re so pointless. And yet this pastime and this world are very similar to my own. Every single New Year I resolve to scrap my social-media scroll, and then I find myself turning away from this very novel to check my feed. I think it’s fair to want more action out of my novels, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that a lack of action makes this novel bad. Because I have full faith that author Alexandra Kleeman knew exactly what she was doing, and it was layers upon layers more than Girls. This is how the narrator’s boyfriend describes her:
“I was a great girl, he said, but I had a downward trajectory. I had been doing less and less each day, and the things I did do I regarded with trepidation, as though they might turn on me. He wanted to date someone who was on the upswing. Someone who had shaken off simpler problems and was left only with the unsolvables. I, on the other hand, was turning solvables into unsolvables and then trying to solve them. I made the least of my situation.”
This novel is indisputably intelligent. It is satisfying, too, because every detail of this world (which starts out as familiar as New York, but grows increasingly strange) is placed with careful intention and pulled back into the plot farther along. Many of these details are descriptions of commercials, which is not in the Top Ten Reasons Why I Read Books. But a novel that drops crumbs and then gathers them up into a satisfying loaf? That is definitely a reason I read books. A novel whose essence can be parsed from a close-reading of the first paragraph? Yes please.
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine reminded me of Pasha Malla’s People Park because of its focus on television and the hollowness of urban life. It also reminded me of the Paul Auster short story Ghosts, where “White wants Blue to follow a man named Black and to keep an eye on him for as long as necessary,” and the job winds up being largely pointless. I’ve been struggling to compose some sort of art around the splintering of truth in the Trump era, the fact that our views appear to be so disparate that they’re the same, our lives an endless quest for nourishment. This novel feels like part of the answer. Even though it was published in 2015.