Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner

You know, it's helpful when you're about to leave on vacation if the internet actually works, so you can, you know, line up a post or two for the time you're going to be gone. I meant to have this for you last week before I dashed off for a long weekend in Niagara Falls, but you know what they say about the best of intentions. I'm happy to report that the internet appears to be working again (yayyy!), and I have an excellent book to review for you - Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner.

P.S. Thanks for all the happy blogiversary wishes. Again, if my internet hadn't been sucking for the last week or so I would have been way more interactive with all you awesome people. I'll announce winners for the giveaway tomorrow!

Wes is seventeen, but he feels much, much older the night that he takes the long walk home from an Upper East Side apartment to his house in Greenwich Village. For an average seventeen year old guy, the night he loses his virginity would be a momentous occasion. Wes, however, is anything but average as we come to find out during the course of the next day of his life as he reflects on losing his virginity to the "wrong" girl, nurses his terminally ill mother, tries to make a deadline for a revised paper about War and Peace, and attempts to cook a bizarre meal that will bring his whole fragile family to the table. In the course of one ordinary yet extraordinary day, Wes grows up and learns some important lessons all while readers are treated to a unique and extremely vividly drawn family and a main character whose unexpectedly deep thoughts about life and love appeal to our own experience.

Through much of the reading, Everything Happens Today inspires mixed feelings. On one hand, Browner's choice to write his novel without chapter breaks has the tendency to make Wes's narrative monotonous, and gives the impression that Wes's sometimes incessant navel-gazing will proceed in circles without breaks or ends indefinitely not unlike Borges' Library of Bable, an illustration Wes is particularly drawn to. On the other hand, getting inside Wes's thought-pattern and learning the reasoning that drives him is what ends up making Everything Happens Today stand out. Wes is a more or less typical teenager who spends a little too much time with his iPhone, wonders if he is good enough for the girl he loves (or if what he feels for her is even truly love), and gets frustrated with his family, but Wes is also a bookish, thoughtful sort of guy who loves his family sacrificially, wants to be a truly good person, and struggles with the decisions he's making as he works his way into an unstoppable adulthood where his dearest wish is that he not become his father. In short, Wes is a lovable narrator both despite and because of his perpetual over-thinking, and he will make readers root for him that he might come to an understanding and an acceptance of his life such as it is.

Even though Wes is the heart and soul of the book, Browner creates a cast of secondary characters - Wes's parents, his sister, his best friend, the girls he might or might not be in love with - that leap off the page. His beloved little sister comes off just as quirky and innocent as intended. His father shuffles through a life populated with broken dreams and unmet potential that Wes himself loathes. His ill mother is a fragile shell of herself whose former life is barely visible beneath her current circumstances. His friend is the perfect well-intentioned meddler. The girls he falls for are as much fully fleshed out characters in their own right as they are lessons in what love really looks like for the hapless Wes.

It would be lying to say that Wes's deep thoughts combined with their lack of chapter breaks don't make Everything Happens Today a little difficult to tackle. That said, what I've come to appreciate about the Europa Editions books that I've read thus far, is that they make me think and work at them a little before yielding what is nearly always a rewarding, if somewhat atypical, reading experience. I'm fully convinced that readers will fall in love with loyal, well-intentioned Wes, just as I did, and be caught up in and ultimately charmed by this unusual tale of coming of age today.

(Thanks to Julia at Europa for my review copy!)


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head about Europa books. I haven't read this one yet, but the stories do not always flow well (maybe translation in some cases) but I always end up loving their books in the end:) gotta try this one.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. No chapter breaks? I'm not sure I've ever read a book without chapter breaks. I'll have to think about this one.

  3. Diane - It's funny with the Europa books. I'm always like..."hmmm I don't know how I feel about this" when I'm hitting the midway point, and then by the end I'm totally won over! Hope you do try this one out and that you like it as much as I did.

    Kathy - The chapter break thing definitely messed with me. Without a chapter break to reach for I felt like I kept putting the book down after only a few pages so it's a short book that took me a weirdly long time to read. I did really like it in spite of that, though!