Jami Attenberg's ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS, Jen's Review
Jami Attenberg's All This Could Be Yours is a stunning and incisive examination of the obligations we have as parents and as children to each other and about the way that loving someone is, in a sense, an obligation. It's also about what happens when someone is so horrible that he erases those obligations, that he eliminates the love others have. The novel centers on Victor, a man who is dying in the midst of a family he has abused and controlled for years. Though he excels at providing materially for his family--his wife, Barbra; his children Gary and Alex; and their families--his wretched behavior has tested their love until now, at the time he relies most on them, they are conflicted about how much they owe this patriarch.
Attenberg's narrative moves through the perspectives of everyone BUT Victor, veering occasionally to flash into the thoughts of those with whom they interact or, at times, to provide an extended move into other characters' points of view. We see the interconnectedness of people, the ways that even a casual encounter can have an impact on someone and, consequently, the ways that our central relationships become the courses of our lives. The book is also about . . . well, about stuff. It's about how belongings can seem to stand in for love, for affection, and the times that works or the times it leaves us cold. For some characters, owning things can, at times, seem to be fulfilling . . . but eventually, that feeling recedes, and the true cost of a lack of care becomes apparent.
I'll be interested to see how All This Could Be Yours does in the Morning News Tournament of Books (I'm working my way through the shortlist!). The book certainly drew me in, beginning with short, punchy chapters that move quickly to introduce the characters and then extending into longer chapters that immersed me in varying points of view. Seeing the ways that Victor's criminality and callousness had shaped his family, but also his daughter-in-law Twyla and his granddaughters, the way that even such a horrible human being can inspire momentary affection from those who try to love him, tapped at both my thoughts and emotions. Attenberg's writing is amazing, seemingly objective but somehow more affective for the ways she shows how each character sees the world, the way objective observations aren't objective at all. I found it to be really brilliant.
Who else is reading for the Tournament of Books? Has anyone read this novel--or any others--by Attenberg?