I Came All This Way to Meet You: Writ­ing Myself Home

  • Review
By – February 14, 2022

In her lat­est book, best­selling author Jami Atten­berg takes us on a whirl­wind tour of her life as she tries to find­her place in the world.

The first two sec­tions of the mem­oir detail Attenberg’s mean­der­ing youth and mid­dle age. She lives in city after city (Chica­go, Atlanta, New Orleans, Seat­tle, New York, Chapel Hill, Austin, Mem­phis, to name a few). We hear about friends and lovers and fam­i­ly who helped along the way, though the author doesn’t always dive deep enough into those char­ac­ters to give the read­er a full sense of the peo­ple or their rela­tion­ship to her. Through­out, there’s both com­fort and grow­ing dis­com­fort with the insta­bil­i­ty of her liv­ing sit­u­a­tions. After­mov­ing to twen­ty-six places with­in one year, she real­izes It wasn’t cute or charm­ing any­more and maybe it nev­er was.”

Along the way, Atten­berg does what writ­ers do. She writes. She pub­lish­es a book and then anoth­er and anoth­er. There’s a lit­tle mon­ey and some suc­cess — but not enough, and even­tu­al­ly her pub­lish­er drops her. Ulti­mate­ly, she finds an edi­tor who believes in her work, which marks a turn­ing point in her career.

Attenberg’s prose flows smooth­ly — although she makes occa­sion­al leaps in time and geog­ra­phy — and she clear­ly has fun with it. This is evi­dent from the ear­li­est pages, in which she describes the var­i­ous odd jobs she held. Some of them called for bits of incon­se­quen­tial writ­ing, which brought her joy “… even if I was writ­ing some­thing that wasn’t inter­est­ing at all, a for­get­table arrange­ment of words, a dec­o­ra­tion on a page, the baby’s breath of cor­po­rate America.”

There are allu­sions to dark­er top­ics — a trau­mat­ic assault from her youth, her drug use, her anx­i­ety, and a hys­terec­to­my — as well as reflec­tions on mid­dle age and what might fol­low. I have always felt like I was two wrong turns away from com­plete destruc­tion. We all are, and we’re fool­ing our­selves if we think we’re not.” But these issues often get no more space than descrip­tions of, say, drink­ing whiskey with neigh­bors on a rooftop. In the final sec­tion of the book, Atten­berg opens up about her emo­tion­al wounds and rela­tion­ships that affect­ed her. It’s well worth the wait.

I Came All This Way to Meet You is a writer’s mem­oir in every sense.

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