• Review
By – March 22, 2024

In 2019, Jules — an unful­filled, twen­ty-eight-year-old, Brook­lyn-based writer with an MFA — is lazi­ly work­ing for a web­site that cre­ates lit­er­a­ture study guides for high school stu­dents with short atten­tion spans. An unwel­come extend­ed vis­it from her younger sis­ter, Pop­py, aggra­vates their already com­pet­i­tive, love-hate rela­tion­ship. Both sis­ters are very online, and very under­em­ployed, millennials.

Jules’s love life is going no more smooth­ly than her pro­fes­sion­al life. In a cul­ture in which irony serves as a sub­sti­tute for emo­tion, she has recent­ly bro­ken up with her kind, long-term boyfriend. Unable to appre­ci­ate his gen­uine feel­ings for her, she is now dat­ing a nar­cis­sist she met on a dat­ing app.

Jules is ful­ly immersed in social media and meme cul­ture, and she’s work­ing so hard to main­tain her care­ful­ly curat­ed image that she can’t remem­ber her authen­tic self, if such a thing exists. Fix­at­ing on posts she despis­es, Jules offers a suc­cinct descrip­tion of the appeal of hate-scrolling: The part of my brain that loves hate­ful things is aglow.” In the sis­ters’ over­heat­ed cul­ture, every­thing is a pose — includ­ing their ill-con­sid­ered, hyp­o­crit­i­cal polit­i­cal stances.

Mean­while, their moth­er, who lives in Flori­da with their father, is espous­ing Mes­sian­ic Judaism and buy­ing into tox­ic well­ness” cul­ture. She’s par­tic­i­pat­ing in mul­ti­level mar­ket­ing schemes and spout­ing ill-informed opin­ions she’s picked up from social media. The sis­ters’ father, a der­ma­tol­o­gist, injects Jules’s twen­ty-eight-year-old face with fillers — a sign of their lit­er­al­ly skin-deep rela­tion­ship. Against their bet­ter judg­ment, the sis­ters vis­it their par­ents for a haz­ardous Thanks­giv­ing din­ner, which ends with Pop­py call­ing her cous­in’s wife a Nazi.

In a rare moment of insight, Jules acknowl­edges that she will nev­er be a seri­ous thinker, a seri­ous writer.” It’s not that art is dead,” she explains, it’s just that I’m not going to be one of the ones who makes it.”

Wor­ry is set in a stress­ful moment in time, made even more so by the reader’s knowl­edge of the impend­ing pan­dem­ic. As the title implies, the char­ac­ters are angst-rid­den: Jules has intense anx­i­ety, which man­i­fests as a fear of vom­it­ing and unfa­mil­iar foods. Poppy’s wor­ry is writ­ten all over her body, in the form of fre­quent flares” of hives.

Jules may not be very self-aware, but she is cer­tain­ly fun­ny, whether she real­izes it or not. Although this is a bleak book, and although (or per­haps because) it stars an unlik­able, emo­tion­al­ly stunt­ed nar­ra­tor, it has sev­er­al laugh-out-loud moments.

Lau­ren Gilbert is Direc­tor of Pub­lic Ser­vices at the Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry in New York City, where she man­ages the Lil­lian Gold­man Read­ing Room and Ack­man & Ziff Fam­i­ly Geneal­o­gy Insti­tute and arranges and mod­er­ates online book discussions.

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