"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Our January 2018 Soup of the Month is You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman!

“Inside a body, there is no light. A massed wetness pressing in on itself, shapes thrust against each other with no sense of where they are… Anything could be inside.”

So begins Alexandra Kleeman’s YouToo Can Have a Body Like Mine. To work your way through this audacious, uneasy-making novel is to explore a familiar – and troubling – landscape. Our main character, known only as A, divides her time between a job and a relationship that are equally unfulfilling. Her home life does anything but provide respite, as her roommate seems to be appropriating A’s life, item by item, as her own: her boyfriend, her makeup, her habits, her identity. Weird goings-on, meanwhile, start to infiltrate A’s limited universe: Neighbors disappear, leaving their front door wide open. Cryptic messages and fliers start showing up around town. Entire supplies of Kandy Kakes – a ubiquitous, chemically-engineered product that resembles a Hostess Cupcake – vanish from store shelves overnight. That these events are all connected is obvious, but A can’t quite put her finger on why. At least, not yet.

The escapes from the subtly chaotic outside world available to A are limited to television – she watches a lot of television – and Wally’s Supermarket. At this bizzaro chain store, the staff wear giant, unnerving mascot heads, and the aisles are organized to “inspire creativity” in their customers’ shopping experience – or possibly drive them insane. At home, A’s viewing habits are dialed in on a strange game show with built-in, unsettling real-life consequences, and punctuated with ubiquitous, lengthy, and oddly creepy commercials for Kandy Kakes. She’s also haunted by the news story of a local man who, inexplicably, became fixated on frozen meat. Before she knows it, A is acting out in ways that seem propelled by all of these influences.

Who – or what – is gnawing away at our heroine? Blame could be placed on her overbearing roommate, her emotionally disengaged boyfriend, or any factor of modern life: big corporations; the dissolution of urban centers; trash TV specifically or The Media, more broadly. Kleeman wisely leaves much to the interpretation of the reader. This is perhaps what makes You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine a perfect novel for the new millennium (and the new year). It is part amateur detective story, part modern horror, and tinged throughout with a restrained, never smarmy sense of humor. Moreover, A makes for a strikingly relatable heroine. Directionless and fragile though she is, she’s incredibly compelling and, at times, quite funny. The “shiftless millennial” is already an established archetype, and A embodies it; how Kleeman turns that archetype on its head will surprise you.
The search for meaning is at the heart of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. Kleeman’s heroine longs to find purpose and connection in her life, and finding either is a tall order when one’s own body is an uncomfortable, unknowable place. “It’s no surprise, then,” she reasons, “that we care most for our surfaces.” Fortunately, for her readers, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is spooky, engaging and absolutely one-of-a-kind novel that is both finely crafted on the outside and richly complex on the inside.

- Kieran Kenney, Book Soup Supervisor

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