The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 9 April 2019

The New Me

by Halle Butler

It can be hard to find one's way in the world. Even more of a challenge if one is emotionally sensitive, fragile, susceptible to anxiety and depression. It can sound like a millennial's self-help book if we get too much into this problem. Millie is a young woman given to judgmental observations of the people she works with in the nondescript back office of a Chicago design firm. Her attitude is, at first, acidic. But we soon learn, in this short quick-moving novel, that Millie has a tendency toward a kind of self-absorbed depression, the sort that yearns for a new life adventure but is relentlessly stymied by personal inertia, anxiety, self-loathing and a righteous and yet often justified disdain for the soul-deadening existence that comes from making ends meet with odd jobs and temp work.

Meanwhile, Millie can't keep things together at home. Her only friends are equally self-absorbed and hold her at a distance, as she does them. It's an almost oppressive struggle, and Millie can be a difficult protagonist with whom to spend one's reading time. There is an existential quality to her situation, stuck in a temp job she loathes, and resistant to making the emotional and even political sacrifices required to play the game, move up the ladder, find some stability while still yearning for something more. The depressive dismay she experiences suggest an existential detachment. We might find Millie walking on an Algerian beach, looking to pick a fight just because there's no compelling reason not to. On the other hand, Millie's indulgent parents help pay for her rent and food. For now, at least, she can afford to surrender to her indolent depression. She doesn't really need a real job. Not yet. Something that surrender to fate might be in the offing, though. Butler writes Millie's story with wit and a depressive's abandon. There are glimpses of insight and even hope, Buddhist realization and an acceptance and release that comes with some basic self-knowledge. It's all rather grim, actually, but this vignette rings true.

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