Nobody, Somebody, Anybody by Kelly McClorey

“I dreaded spring, the harassment of a pleasant sunny day. But it came anyway, and with the trees budding outside my window, I said, Okay, time to live again.”

The cover and summary led me to believe that Nobody, Somebody, Anybody would be yet another My Year of Rest and Relaxation copycat so I was relatively surprised to discover that style and tone-wise this novel shares far more in common with Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman and Hilary Leichter’s Temporary. While by no means incompetently written Kelly McClorey’s debut was a bit too vanilla for my taste, and, there were instance in which her prose brought to mind Jenny Offill’s Weather (not a favourite of mine).

“I would choose suffering over indifference any day. As Florence Nightingale said, out of nothing comes nothing, but out of suffering might come the cure—give me pain over paralysis!”

Amy Harney, our protagonist, is in her late twenties and working as a chambermaid at a yacht club while waiting to retake the EMT exam at the end of the summer. Still grieving her mother’s death Amy avoids her father and brother. After becoming persona non grata at her university Amy has also no friends. In spite of her bizarrely positive work-attitude, which really did remind me of Murata’s Keiko, her supervisor doesn’t seem to like her that much.
To ward off loneliness Amy opens her landlord’s post, only to one day discover that he paid a subscription to find a Ukrainian wife. As he waits for his fiancé’s visa her landlord, Gary, begins to test out recipes on Amy, in order to hone his culinary skills. Amy, who tries to be what other people want her to be, seems happy to be a sympathetic ear to him, dispensing praise and helpful advice.
Meanwhile, to guarantee her success at the exam Amy prescribes herself a placebo: she will act as if she has already passed the EMT exam, going so far as to tell others about it and to create counterfeit documents and ids.
The more time she spends with Gary, the more she likes the feeling of belonging. Alas, others do eventually begin picking up on her obsessive, and increasingly delusional, behaviour.

While at first, I found Amy’s irrationally upbeat narration quirky, her story did feel relatively unremarkable. This is yet another novel starring an alienated American millennial who is disconnected from others, if not reality itself. Amy tells herself that she wants to be an EMT, but as her fixation towards Gary grows, she loses sight of what had until then motivated her. More often than in her desperate attempts at connection Amy puts people off. Because Amy lacks both social skills and self-awareness she tends to make faux pas, ignores other people’s privacy, and falls prey to idiosyncratic flights of fancy. She finds some comfort in quoting or thinking about Florence Nightingale, who is her idol (I did wonder whether Amy was aware of the not-so-great things Lytton Strachey had written about Nightingale…).

In spite of her zesty narration, I never felt all that taken or enthused by Amy. She remained somewhat amorphous, which sometimes works in favour of a character but here it didn’t. The mumblecoresque dialogues weren’t as funny as they portended to be, and Amy’s experiences working as a cleaner did not hold a candle to Mona’s ones in Pretend I’m Dead. This brings me to my biggest problem with this novel: its style, tone, characters, and story bring nothing new to the self-sabotaging-maladaptive-millennial genre. Amy’s placebo cure also left me somewhat wanting as I was excepting something slightly more unorthodox.

Nobody, Somebody, Anybody lacked the originality of Murata and Leichter’s novels, nor was it as darkly funny or razor-sharp as Pizza Girl, Luster, or Pizza Girl. The author’s take on contemporary malaise didn’t feel particularly insightful or clever. Still, I think that readers who haven’t read all those novels that I just mentioned may find this more entertaining than I did. For me, however, this a rather unremarkable read that sits somewhere between Dolan’s not-so-exciting Exciting Times and Austin’s Everyone in This Room Will Someday be Dead. These books may have the odd funny moment but other than that…non sono un granché.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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