All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
Jami Attenberg can do bleak humour. She can skewer and summarise characters with one scathing sentence. She is the lord of mockery, the lady of irony, but, more than anything else, she is the queen when it comes to writing messy, fraught family portraits.
Attenberg opens her sixth novel, All This Could Be Yours, by introducing us to the dreadful Victor Tuchman, a horrid, violent person who immediately has a heart attack. Set over one single, stifling August day in New Orleans, the novel centres on Victor’s family and the consequences of his abuse over many years.
After Victor is taken to hospital, his son Gary resists visiting. He has his own troubles. Whereas Victor’s daughter, Alex, a lawyer who lives near Chicago, flies to New Orleans immediately, where she engages in a demonstrative clash with her mother, Barbra. Alex wants to know the truth about her father and about her parents’ abusive relationship. Barbra remains tight-lipped about her reasons for staying with Victor, yet throughout the day she analyses her life and wonders at her future with a wonderful headiness. Will he live or will he die? Could she be free now?
The book does not describe Victor’s violence (thankfully) but it does ask the reader to consider one unadulterated question: what is the long-term effect of domestic violence on who you are? Despite this bleak premise, Attenberg’s book is perfectly considered, and allows you to laugh out loud even while your heart is breaking. Although she is unsentimental with language, Attenberg illustrates well the fragility of families, and what binds them. In this case, it is hope that leads the way. And a seamless turn of phrase. If you enjoy Nicole Krauss or Meg Wolitzer’s work, add this to your list. For established fans of Attenberg, you are in for a treat. All hail the queen.