It’s up for debate whether Alexandra Kleeman’s début novel You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is dystopian. I mean, it’s too familiar and life-like to be truly dystopian, although that’s exactly what makes it so terrifying. The world seems to be functioning pretty much as normal, as people go about their days with the aimless sense of duty we are all accustomed to, a far cry from the visions of Orwell or Burgess or Dick. But the definition of dystopia is “a community or society that is undesirable or frightening”, so who’s to say “normal” can’t also be dystopic?
Kleeman’s narrator ‘A’ is blank, mostly faceless with few discernible personality traits. Her job feels temporary and is barely mentioned. Many of her scenes involve her doing very little inside her apartment. Instead she is fleshed out through her exposure to-/interaction with her room-mate (‘B’), boyfriend (‘C’) and the vivid stream of entertainment and advertising (or entertaining advertisement) which seems part of the world’s very fabric. Obvious comparisons are Pynchon and Foster Wallace, plus George Saunders in his being-clever mode (as opposed to his sentimental one), although the focus is very much away from the large-scale political/societal systems in favour of personal, A-centric explorations. All background occurrences (the mystery of disappearing dads, an anti-veal activist who ends up marketing it, even B and C) are filtered through A’s experience.
As the story is told in first person this might seem obvious, but (to me at least) it goes much deeper than that. In most postmodern books the main character is subject to/lost amongst a world of disinformation, whereas in You Too… it’s A herself who feels like the disinformation. The question here isn’t “is the world as the media says it is?” but rather “am I who the media says I am? Who I think I am?” Whether this is an emerging trend in post-postmodern millennial literature, a natural reaction to a world in which identity is unsettled and fluctuating, or just a new, gender-based perspective on things traditionally written about by men is unclear. One thing is for certain, Kleeman is a name to watch among the new generation of writers building upon the work of the aforementioned greats.Here’s a collection of songs that I think are relevant or related to the novel. If you like a particular band, just click the artist name in the tracklisting to be whisked away for more information. Enjoy:
- Too Dark – Frankie Cosmos
- Sucks Hanging Out With You (It Sucks Even More When You Leave) – Free Cake For Every Creature
- Slumber Party – Mommy Long Legs
- What’s Another Lipstick Mark – Adult Mom
- Unholy Faces – Florist
- Bedroom – Alanna McArdle
- TV – Oh, Rose & Sawtooth
- Death Cult Paradise – Trace Mountains
- I Saw My Twin – Hop Along
- Nashville Parthenon – Casiotone For The Painfully Alone
- Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts – Wolf Parade
- Oranges – Young Jesus
- 1994 – PWR BTTM
- Washing Machine – SPORTS
- Lookalike / I Lost My Mind – Titus Andronicus
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is out now on HarperCollins. Quiet, Constant Friends is still available as a download or on cassette via the Wake The Deaf Bandcamp page. You can read the other Lit Links posts here. If you have a book in mind and fancy a go yourself, just get in touch!