All Grown Up
(2017) is Jami Attenberg’s fifth novel. In addition to writing novels, Attenberg is also an essayist who has had work published in The New York Times
, The Wall Street Journal
, and Elle.
Andrea, a thirty-nine-year-old woman who lives in New York, once attended art school but dropped out and moved in with her brother and his wife. With the help of a friend, she finds an apartment with a view of the Empire State Building. This inspires her to continue work on her art, painting the view from her window every day.
She gets a job in an office that she hates, watching the people around her grow up and start families. Her brother’s wife gets pregnant, giving birth to her daughter while Andrea is high on drugs; Andrea quits doing drugs soon afterward. A building is built near her apartment, obstructing her view of the Empire State Building; Andrea wonders what she is supposed to do with her life now.
The book progresses episodically, presenting a number of different vignettes in Andrea’s life and the lives of the people she is close to. Her brother David is a semi-successful musician married to Greta, a magazine editor. David’s first band broke up after Andrea slept with one of the members, but his new band is more successful. Greta gives birth to a daughter, Sigrid, who is terminally ill. Andrea begins to distance herself from her brother when she sees how sad and stressed he is.
In addition, Andrea tries several times to start relationships with men her own age. However, she regularly finds that she is at a different place in her life. She briefly dates Baron, a divorced man with a daughter, but is annoyed that Baron seems to want a continuation of his married life that Andrea can’t provide. She breaks up with men soon after she starts seeing them because she grows bored or feels pressured by the relationship.
Indigo, an old friend of Andrea’s, lives in Seattle. Andrea watches as Indigo marries and has children while Andrea does neither. At Indigo’s wedding, Andrea, seated at the single’s table, makes a scene after she gets drunk and has her advances rejected by the men at the table. Later, she is hesitant to go see Indigo’s baby because she doesn’t want to be reminded of the passage of time. Having lost many friends after they become parents, she assumes she will lose Indigo as well. However, when the time comes, she buys baby presents and visits the new baby. Indigo tells Andrea that she does not have to conform to societal expectations if being single makes her happy.
Later, Indigo confides to Andrea that she is having marital problems. Andrea, who is casually seeing a new partner, is secretly glad that she is never planning to get married and will never have to worry about such things. Andrea and her new boyfriend, Matthew, eventually break up because Matthew is self-conscious about always being broke. Andrea allows them to drift apart and has a hard time explaining what she really feels for Matthew in therapy.
Betsy, a friend of Andrea’s mother, passes away and Andrea attends the funeral. It brings back bad memories of a time she was molested at a family function. Her assailant was one of a number of strange men her mother used to invite to rent-raising dinner parties at their apartment. After the funeral, Andrea tries to talk about the incident with her mother, but her mother just tells Andrea that she should think about getting married so that she can have someone to help her navigate her life.
Indigo gets divorced from her husband, which surprises Andrea because she had always considered Indigo a model to aspire to. Andrea avoids talking about her personal problems while Indigo is divorcing, but she is secretly glad that Indigo is single again and can devote more time to their friendship.
An actress moves into Andrea’s building and Andrea attempts to strike up a friendship with her. She is rebuffed, until she comes across the actress crying because her boyfriend has broken up with her and Andrea is able to console her. Andrea realizes that the actress is just another person and wonders if she should go back to making art since it was the only thing that made her happy.
Andrea speaks with her mother and agrees to be there for Matthew, Greta, and their child. Greta confides in Andrea that her relationship with David is over and by extension her relationship with Andrea. Andrea regrets this since she would like her brother and sister-in-law to be able to come together for their child.