In her latest book, bestselling author Jami Attenberg takes us on a whirlwind tour of her life as she tries to findher place in the world.
The first two sections of the memoir detail Attenberg’s meandering youth and middle age. She lives in city after city (Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Seattle, New York, Chapel Hill, Austin, Memphis, to name a few). We hear about friends and lovers and family who helped along the way, though the author doesn’t always dive deep enough into those characters to give the reader a full sense of the people or their relationship to her. Throughout, there’s both comfort and growing discomfort with the instability of her living situations. Aftermoving to twenty-six places within one year, she realizes “It wasn’t cute or charming anymore and maybe it never was.”
Along the way, Attenberg does what writers do. She writes. She publishes a book and then another and another. There’s a little money and some success — but not enough, and eventually her publisher drops her. Ultimately, she finds an editor who believes in her work, which marks a turning point in her career.
Attenberg’s prose flows smoothly — although she makes occasional leaps in time and geography — and she clearly has fun with it. This is evident from the earliest pages, in which she describes the various odd jobs she held. Some of them called for bits of inconsequential writing, which brought her joy “… even if I was writing something that wasn’t interesting at all, a forgettable arrangement of words, a decoration on a page, the baby’s breath of corporate America.”
There are allusions to darker topics — a traumatic assault from her youth, her drug use, her anxiety, and a hysterectomy — as well as reflections on middle age and what might follow. “I have always felt like I was two wrong turns away from complete destruction. We all are, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re not.” But these issues often get no more space than descriptions of, say, drinking whiskey with neighbors on a rooftop. In the final section of the book, Attenberg opens up about her emotional wounds and relationships that affected her. It’s well worth the wait.
I Came All This Way to Meet You is a writer’s memoir in every sense.
Ada Brunstein is the Head of Reference at a university press.