Novelist Jami Attenberg’s midlife memoir isn’t exactly a victory lap, but it is written from a place of hard-earned contentment after years of struggle. Among other things, “I Came All This Way to Meet You,” a tale of how Attenberg became a full-time writer, is a hymn to perseverance.
It is also the kind of book that will be of great interest to some people, especially aspiring writers. Others, to whom his work is less familiar, perhaps not so much.
Attenberg joins a growing contingent of established novelists who shared their early literary works. More recently, these include Lily King in her partly autobiographical novel “Writers and Lovers” (2020) and Ann Patchett in some essays of “These Precious Days” (2021). Such stories can be reassuring for those just starting out.
Attenberg is probably best known for her groundbreaking fourth novel, “The Middlesteins” (2004), which focuses on a woman addicted to food. Less well known is the fact that, in a blow which could have proved fatal to the careers of many writers, “The Middlesteins” was rejected by the publisher of his first three books. Attenberg’s subsequent novels – including his most recent, ‘It Could Be Yours’ (2019), about the damage a narcissistic villain inflicts on his family – secured him the place of master of the twisted family saga. but moving.
Just as Attenberg readers have expressed surprise that she isn’t overweight like her character Edie Middlestein, they might be surprised to learn that she comes from a close and loving family in the Chicago area. His father, an outgoing salesman, taught him that “if you can sell one thing, you can sell anything”: appliances, gadgets, books. Her mother introduced her to “the joys of reading and creativity” and nurtured the conviction that “I could accomplish anything I wanted, regardless of my gender”. Before moving to Florida, her parents together ran a sewing store called Prints Charming.
“I’ve come this far to meet you” is generally warmer and more confessional than Attenberg’s novels, but shares a time-jumping tendency with his fiction. While in his novels these chronological jumps add layers and prefigurations, they lead here to repetitions that are sometimes disorienting or embarrassing.
Attenberg begins with a lot of brio: “For 20 years, I jostled,” she writes, and sprinkles us with a shower of verbs in the past tense, describing what she did: “I ran the cash register. ‘a pharmacy. I counted the pills. I sold lottery tickets… I was a waitress… I tempered. I’ve posted. I answered the phones. I typed letters.
Although it is not as fiery as “I casserole” by Helen Ellis. I turn. I Toothpick “in” American Housewife “(which was the groundbreaking book that kickstarted Ellis’ stalled career), Attenberg effectively captures the battery of odd jobs that ultimately led to work adjacent to writing – spell-check, edit, write and, later, work for a cable network she doesn’t name, where the men created all the shows. (A Google search points to HBO.) She comments: “I wasn’t totally wasting my time. life, “although she memorably calls the uninteresting handwriting she did for most of these jobs” a decoration on the page, the baby’s breath of the American company. ”
When she realized that what she really wanted was to write her own stuff, “Everything just got easier, in a way… even though things got a lot, a lot harder.” She began to write, she says, not with ease, but with diligence, determination, focus, and “with great pleasure.” She adds, “I leaned into my eccentricities” – even if that meant scarcity and couch-surfing. She notes that in her 40th birthday (10 years ago), she slept in 26 places in seven months.
“Writing filled me like nothing else had. But it also dug holes in me, and that’s where the sadness came out, ”she writes. Yet she has come to savor what she calls “the security of a sentence.”
Safe from what? Eventually, we learn of his injuries – including the lasting repercussions of an assault by another writing student during his freshman year at college.
Attenberg understands that being a writer comes with a sense of selling, which takes him – and this narrative – on a book tour, both at home and abroad. She made a friend who shared her fascination with ossuaries and “seemed to carry her interior over her exterior, just like me”. She is moving from New York to New Orleans, and loves contrasts – as well as a spare bedroom for entertaining friends. Although some of her travelogue sounds like filler material, she has come a long way and is eager to share her itinerary.