I Came All This Way To Meet You: Writing Myself Home: An insightful, exploratory read

Book review: Jami Attenberg’s memoir has lots to say about making art, being a friend and finding your place

Jami Attenberg’s reflections on the extraordinary at the heart of the ordinary may speak to everyone but it is upon artists, especially writers, that she bestows her greatest insight. Photograph: Getty

Jami Attenberg’s reflections on the extraordinary at the heart of the ordinary may speak to everyone but it is upon artists, especially writers, that she bestows her greatest insight. Photograph: Getty

Sat, Jan 29, 2022, 06:00

   
 

Book Title:
I Came All This Way To Meet You: Writing Myself Home

ISBN-13:
978-1788169820

Author:
Jami Attenberg

Publisher:
Serpent’s Tail

Guideline Price:
£14.99

Jami Attenberg is now a well-known literary figure but it wasn’t always so. After a less than stellar start with her first two novels, a change of editor and marketing plan led to 2012’s The Middlesteins unexpectedly hitting the New York Times bestseller list, altering her life’s trajectory. But the compulsion to write, the love of words, was always there. Even as George with the hoe introduced and re-introduced himself to her in the assisted-care facility where she worked, even as she stuffed envelopes for a living and couch surfed across the States, Attenberg always wanted to proclaim, “I own these words. I own these ideas. Here is my book.”

Devoid of both sentimentality and melodrama, this memoir gives away no great family secret; no sordid or intimate details of love affairs. But the stripped back prose, the factual relating, makes it all the more engaging. It’s so starkly real that although about a writer’s life, it will appeal to anyone who’s never made even a one-year plan or anyone who’s ever felt guilt about imposing on people. There’s little boo-hooing but much true emotion – the poignancy of the last days of real community in a Williamsburg apartment block or in Attenberg’s mother’s anguish at being left alone with her daughter’s bawdy friends. It’s warm and thoughtful with plenty of vivid imagery – the ossuary in Portugal; the hanging ghost in a country inn.

Attenberg’s reflections on the extraordinary at the heart of the ordinary may speak to everyone but it is upon artists, especially writers, that she bestows her greatest insights. “Why did this one work? I believe that one must arrive at an intersection of hunger and fear to make great art. Hunger to succeed and create something brilliant and special and affecting. Fear that your life will remain just as it is – or worse – forever.”

One quibble perhaps is that the middle section of the book could have been clipped. We get it, Jami, you were travelling a lot and it was very wearing – no need to make the reader lose the will to live too. That aside, it’s an insightful, exploratory read with lots to say about making art, being a friend and finding your place. Even if that place is always on the move.