Far greater literary minds than mine have praised Emily Gould‘s And the Heart Says Whatever. Curtis Sittenfeld describes it as a “Twenty-first century version of the The Bell Jar.” Jonathan Franzen claims “It makes sense of much that is puzzling about our cultural moment.” For me, however, the most telling is Amy Sohn‘s use of the word limpid. Meant as a compliment, it epitomizes all that is frustrating and painful about this book.
More a series of essays, it lacks the narrative drive and sense of stalking menace that might in any way make Gould a true and worthy successor to Plath. Every word of the The Bell Jar pulls its reader in closer and closer as Plath’s thoughts become more frenzied and the darkness of its inevitably dark climax looms large. In And the Heart Says Whatever nothing much happens at all.
In part that’s because Gould, a former Gawker Editor and experienced blogger, writes with the full weight of the “Irony Particle”. Discovered in the 1990s, the irony particle works much like that of the Higgs-Boson adding ironic mass to every word and thought. It’s this that allowed us to celebrate “Carry On Films” for the casts’ comedic genius and not the tired sexism of their scripts and enjoy the social intricacies of Downton Abbey with a knowing eye and smirk when someone leaps from their wheelchair. Here, it just means we get to read long, hip anecdotes about getting punched in the arm by a lesbian and failing to love the dog you’ve bought, before worrying we’re not quite hip enough to understand why we don’t like reading this more. What’s missing is the rawness of an event that actually has a point. I found myself skimming each page, thinking something really bad has to happen soon, anything more serious than this endless parade of fractious friendships and romantic break-ups with people, who have interesting hair and tattoos.
Everyone feels like the lead actor in the film of their life and what the author captures well is the hysteria of being in your twenties and thinking “THIS IS GREAT. I’M HAVING FUN. WHY AREN’T I HAVING FUN? THIS IS THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE EVER!!!!! GOD I FEEL ANXIOUS” I also know New York is all about real-estate, but stories about a series of apartments you don’t want to live in and cool jobs that run out of steam, does not a Catcher in the Rye make. It’s just an exercise in trying to find adjectives that can make buying morning coffee sound epic for writing class.