Marie’s Reading: “Not Working” by Lisa Owens

Not WorkingI agree wholeheartedly with the marketing on this one–Not Working by Lisa Owens is very much reminiscent of the classic Bridget Jones’s Diary.  Where Bridget is a thirty-something in the late 1990’s, Not Working has its feet firmly planted in the 2010’s.

As long-time readers of this blog know, Bridget Jones’s Diary is one of my favorite books of all time.  Honestly, I want nothing more than to write a compare/contrast essay in finest middle-school fashion about these novels.

Where Bridget Jones drinks Chardonnay and eats cheese, Claire Flannery downs Prosecco by the bottle and main-lines wasabi peas.  Bridget Jones has Mark Darcy, who loves her just as she is, and Claire Flannery has her neurosurgeon boyfriend who puts up with her for some reason.

More than anything, there’s a definite shift in neuroses.  Bridget was considered a freak in 1997 for being over thirty and unmarried–this was the entire focus.  By 2016 it’s totally normal to be together for seven years or more and never think of getting married–you’re a freak if you haven’t found something “meaningful” to do with your working life.

That’s our set-up for Not Working.  Claire Flannery has quit her job to follow her passion.  The only problem is that she has no idea what that is.  So she spends her days in that Chekhovian fug of having so much of nothing to do that it’s overwhelming.  Throw in some family misunderstandings, young workers who are making more than she ever dreamed of, a long-term boyfriend who might be having an affair, and day-to-day musings, and you’ve got a funny, entertaining novel with an upbeat and promising ending.

Claire is a fun character, but not always entirely sympathetic.  The tone is conversational and sardonic, and veers into absurdity every so often.  She is a completely self-absorbed young woman, one that expects everything in life to fall into her lap.  Sometimes, like other characters in the book, you get a little tired of her. Which I think might be the point.  Even Claire gets tired of Claire after a while–of being unable to find a focus, of how she lashes out at people, of how much she drinks, of how life isn’t quite what she expected.

I’ll go ahead and say this because I am of Claire’s generation: Millennials, by and large, have trouble with growing up.  The adult world stinks and we all know it, you don’t get a job at the plant and stay there 40 years anymore, and we use nostalgia as a coping mechanism.  Claire behaves and drinks and just generally conducts herself as if she were still 21, much to the chagrin of a lot of people around her.  It all rings scarily true, which is where the cringe-humor comes from.

Owens really creates a wonderful voice here, and her observations about daily life and relationships are spot-on and insightful.  And always funny, even when they get a bit dark.  I spent a lot of time making comparisons with Bridget Jones, but Claire Flannery is a great creation on her own–the satiric, drunken, ultimately hopeful voice of white upper-middle-class quarter-life crisis.

Just like Bridget’s obsessive calorie counting and weight maintenance, a lot of this stuff is funny ’cause it’s true.  And you know it’s true, fellow college-educated, middle-class 30-year-olds.  You know it’s true.

The format reminded me a lot of Helen Ellis’s brilliant American Housewife: Stories.  A couple stories in that collection started out as tweets.  If you haven’t checked out her American Housewife Twitter yet, do.  Here’s the link.

And Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.  You might like that one, too.

–Marie

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