Saturday, September 25, 2010

Everything is Going to be Great by Rachel Shukert

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 2010

It's about: This book is a memoir by Rachel Shukert, recounting the years after her graduation from the theater department of NYU-- full of promise, full of booze, and full of the idea that her elusive self awaited her finding in Europe.

I thought: First of all, the woman is obsessed with penises. I don't consider myself an exceptionally conservative reader, but I have to say, it was a rare occurrence to finish a page of this book without some reference to the male genitalia. One of the reviews quoted on the book is a rave from the writer of Juno, so let me work with that. Remember the part with the running boys and their bouncing "swords"? Yeah, take that part, zoom in closer, remove the shorts, and that pretty much sums up a lot of this book. Though at times her discussion of phallic foods, for example, can be entertaining and witty, after the one hundredth mention of a penis, it grows wearisome.

The sub-title to this book is: "An underfunded and overexposed European Grand Tour." Truly, a more accurate subtitle would read, "An under-edited, overly sexed, overly soused experience that could have happened anywhere but happened to happen in Europe." This book is little more than a diary recounting the drunken sexual encounters of a proudly and obstinately dysfunctional woman; the cyclical mistakes of a woman who, at least in her years spanned in this memoir, just doesn't get it. The Rachel Shukert at the beginning of the book -- wandering drunken from party to party and going home with strange men whose names she can't remember later -- isn't so very different from the Rachel at the end, who finally stumbles into her future husband out of sheer luck rather than any personal transformation.

But don't get me wrong -- Shukert might have made all the wrong sorts of mistakes, but at least she has a way of telling about them in a self-mocking, entertaining sort of way, and the book certainly isn't without its highlights. Shukert can be at times hilarious, at times insightful, and at times delightfully post-modern. Though her artsy, wanna-be cultured, hipster ways and superficial pop culture references make her come across at times as phony, at least she knows she's phony and feels comfortable poking fun at herself for it. And those of us readers who have that hipster inclination, too, can laugh right along with her at ourselves. For example, what bookish one of us hasn't caught ourselves in a moment like this:
"There was a dead pigeon in the alley where I parked my bike, lying on the cobblestones beside a large mound of gravel and silt...It lay perfect and uninjured, its wings intact, its beak slightly open...If I were a character in a novel, the bird would be a symbol for something, the demise of my innocence, the impossibility of love. But this wasn't a novel, I reminded myself. It didn't mean anything. It was just a dead pigeon that had fallen from the sky."
Shukert's moments of greatest sincerity are those moments dealing with two, very intertwined subjects -- her relationship with her mother and her identity as a Jewish woman traveling Eastern Europe. Through all the phony, the hilarity, the drunkenness, and the sexuality, the moments involving these two relationships were the times when I felt like, yes, I'm finally starting to learn something about Rachel, something real, the walls are coming down a bit. And truly, these two subjects are Shukert's unique contribution to the world of memoirs -- inebriated sex stories are a dime a dozen, but her complicated relationship to her mother and her religion are those unique, identity-forming, interesting, "I want to analyze that" moments to read.

Verdict: In-Between

Reading Recommendations: Read this when you're in the mood for something generally light, entertaining, and very naughty.

Warnings: Language, explicit sexual content, drinking, drug use

Favorite excerpts:
"I think I'd really like to go to Europe for a while," I said.
"Yeah? So would I," said my mother. "I'd also like to be a gorgeous, six-foot, twenty-two-year-old member of the Swedish Bikini Team, but like your grandfather always said, if my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle."

"What was stupid was that I was stuck in this f**king country, freezing, starving, miserable. I was wasting the good years, the fearless years, when everything seems possible, and, by virtue of belief, is; that brief, blessed convergence of youth, of beauty, of charmed foolishness, before the world gets small again; your dreams compressed by limitation and regret until they are nothing more than a half-forgotten frivolity, like a penny you put in one of those machines on the boardwalk at the beach. A cheap souvenir imprinted with the image of a place you scarcely remember. And what was I even doing this for? To find myself?"  

Speaking to her ex-boyfriend on the phone..."I took a moment to compose myself before I answered. Naturally, I wanted to sound cool, collected, like I might have a naked and perhaps famous man in my bedroom waiting to do morning sex things to me. 'Hello?'"

Suggestion: Read another excellent review of this book here, at the New York Times.