3 Stars - Recommended to fans of the emotionally charged and slightly taboo
Publisher: Dzanc Books
While reading Jen Michalski's Could You Be With Her Now, I found myself oscillating between a slew of emotions, which, for me, is the mark of an talented writer. Unafraid of the strange and uncomfortable, Jen pushes and pounds against the walls that separate the acceptable from the unacceptable with these two novellas.
In I Can Make it to California Before it's Time for Dinner, Jen introduces us to Jimmy, a mentally handicapped teen (think 5 year old Jack of Room and Lenny from Of Mice and Men, all rolled into one) whose knowledge of the world is limited to the street in front of his house and the shows he watches on TV. This naivety leads to the accidental death of a neighborhood girl when he heads out in search of his tv show "girlfriend" after a fight with his brother. Guilt ridden and fearful of the consequences Jimmy will face, his brother tells him to hide behind the schoolyard until things blow over but Jimmy loses his way and gets picked up by a sleazy truck driver with bad intentions.
May- September deals with the unlikely pairing of two women and the relationship that develops between them as they begin working together. Alice, a young writer who has just broken up with her girlfriend, is hired by Sandra, an intense and particular older woman, to write her memoir. As their awkward friendship develops into something more, they struggle to let go of their individual baggage and the unspoken taboos that come with the territory.
While both are well written and open our eyes to the delicate, fragile side of humanity, my favorite of the two - I Can Make it to California... - will drown you in an ocean of emotion. Unaware of the ugly and inappropriate side of human nature, Jimmy's childlike ability to trust strangers and believe what is told to him is almost too painful to bear and its simplistic point of view makes your heart bled for him as events begin to unfold. As I read, I was finding it harder and harder to breathe, feeling my throat constrict with disgust and my stomach sour as I watched every parent's worst nightmare unfolding before my eyes.
May-September offered my brain a welcomed reprieve by switching gears and gracefully dealing with a more appropriate (and for me, slightly less realistic) form of human interaction. While their relationship is incredibly tender, I had a very difficult time understanding what attracted Sandra to the much younger woman, even as I questioned Alice's infatuation with her.
As a woman in my mid-thirties, I feel I am right on the cusp of the age-gap crisis. On one side of the fence are the twenty-somethings. While they are not entirely taboo, the early twenties are longer attractive to us. They are too untouched by life, too wide-eyed and fickle, too chiseled (yes, believe it! It is possible). On the other side hang the forty and fifty-somethings. Closer to us in age and maturity, defined much more by what they've done than what they wish to be, their life experience is more of an aphrodisiac. Look at Viggo Mortenson, George Clooney, Michelle Pfifer, and Sharon Stone. Amirite? Ladies, wouldn't you take Robert Downey Jr over Ashton Kutcher? Johnny Depp over Robert Pattinson?
But someone who is on the early side of their twenties falling in love with someone who's settling into their sixties? I have a hard time processing that. The age gap is just too incredible, the personalities and interests just too vast and divided.
Kudos to Michalski for giving me ALL THE EMOTIONS. Whether you fall into these two stories willingly, or struggle to catalog and exercise all of the demons you are dealing with as you make your way through, one thing is certain. Michalski will make you feel. And feeling... well, feeling anything feels good.