Let me just start out by saying I really wanted to like My Life. It was lauded by friends and family as “interesting,” “pretty good, all things considered,” and “worthwhile, buddy, I swear.” Unfortunately, however, any small flake of wisdom that can be plumbed from this voyeuristic glimpse into the human soul is just not enough to make up for the banal, prosaic, and generally predictable tedium that comprise the vast majority of the whole.
At risk of infecting this review with the same sort of mundanity that permeates the entirety of My Life, I’ll begin at the narrative’s beginning and move forward chronologically. My Life begins in the all-too-familiar tradition of the 20th century Middle American melodrama. A white male is born to white parents of middle income means in the middle of the country in a mid-sized city. Although brevity seems to have had zero import in the construction of My Life, it is a testament to the overwhelming monotony of these early chapters that I can’t really recall any important narrative turns, plot points, or really anything of interest in this section at all. There are minor academic and athletic failures that give way to early fumblings with sex and drugs that—despite the former being the main obsession of the protagonist—are largely boring and uninspired.
Throughout the entire adolescence/teenage section, I found myself hoping in vain that My Life was moving towards some sort of climax or epiphanic turn typical of the classic bildungsroman that the narrative ostensibly aspired to be. Unfortunately, that payoff never happened. Instead, My Life just kept blundering forward. Onward, to an unremarkable state university, where the protagonist affected a sort of “literary libertine” persona that essentially amounted to four years of bad poetry, cheap whiskey, pontificating in mid-level English seminars, a pea coat (described by a peripheral character as “smelling like a locker room ashtray, if that were a thing”), and some of the most painfully awkward sex scenes I have ever encountered anywhere. If there is any sort of redemptive takeaway that can be gleaned from this section, it is that I now have an intimate understanding of the term “schadenfreude.”
It’s funny how each progressive section made me yearn for earlier sections that I had originally found dry and boring, e.g., the whole section wherein the protagonist describes himself as being “super into third wave coffee.” Even though it was an arduous slog to wade through the sea of highfalutin adjectives about “single origin espressos,” or “microlot,” “semi-washed” pour-over coffees, at the end of the day, the intertextual references to books and films at least feigned an attempt at middle-brow, and the sex scenes were slightly more entertaining, albeit less frequent, seemingly randomly so.
Instead of ending on a high point (relatively speaking), My Life just kept on going. The annoyingly self-important coffee section gives way to an infuriatingly self-deprecating section marked by the protagonist’s half-assed attempt to “branch out” or “find” himself, a pursuit that ends with a move to the Pacific Northwest, where the protagonist lands an office job and adopts a sort of business-casual-à-la-the-clearance-rack-at-REI look. In this section, the protagonist starts self-identifying as a record collector (though he listens almost exclusively to digital copies of the same albums he liked in high school), a “hop head” (though “burgeoning problem drinker” would be more appropriate), and an outdoor enthusiast (though it’s a complete fucking lie). The big cathartic moment of this section comes when the HR department approves a purchase order for the protagonist to get a sitting/standing desk. Spoiler alert: the protagonist/desk ends up spending 98% of his/its time in the sitting position.
Let me pause for a moment to bemoan the ascension of the word “relatable” in the popular culture, and, more importantly, its use as a sort of value metric in popular criticism, i.e., the idea that a character has to be “relatable” in order to be worthwhile. But I’ll be damned if My Life hasn’t changed my mind about this. I mean, come on! Every day the same thing, surrounded by the same characters, none of whom are provided any sort of interiority, individuality, or really any detail beyond the clothes they wear, the food they choose to microwave for lunch, or their specific email-correspondence idiosyncrasies that the protagonist finds irksome (e.g., the formatting choices of CHRIS “ALL CAPS” CHRISTENSON of accounting). At this point, the only glimpse we get into the protagonist himself is through the occasional piece of “literary humor writing” marked by his particular proclivity for overwrought, rambling, and—I cringe to say—meta prose, that he manages to bang out ham-fistedly in the body of an outlook email so that none of his coworkers realize that he’s “maintaining his writing practice” when he ought to be doing his fucking job.
At this point, it seems only fair to admit that I have yet to finish My Life, so it may be a bit unsporting to critique it without knowing exactly how it ends. With that said, I was going to give My Life a one-star rating anyway, but then I came to a mildly confounding realization: even after all of the torpor, ennui, and flat out bad writing, I just keep at it. Day after day after day after day, I return to the predictable narrative with the dim flicker of optimism that something interesting might happen. And when I consider all the times I’ve put down highly recommended works by the likes of Pynchon, Proust, Dickens, Knausgaard, and so on, the very fact that I’ve stuck with My Life this long must be worth something, thus the second star.
Tyler Koshakow's most recent fiction and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Rumpus, Hobart, Big Lucks, and NANO Fiction. He is currently reviewing the sequel to My Life, in which the narrator quits his job, gets married, and moves to Portland. He tweets @tylerkoshakow.