Book of the Week: You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine – Alexandra Kleeman

How to begin? I was completely flummoxed by this novel, then beguiled by it, then drawn into what PW calls its “fever dream of modern alienation.” There is, of course, a modernist tradition of this kind of story; Don DeLillo’s White Noise is perhaps the easiest and most apt example—a book that was prescient in its understanding of American cultural experience.

What’s different here? I could be wrong but this feels like the first time I’ve seen this vision from a woman’s point of view. And what a view it is: a chillingly alienated story “of sex and friendship, consumption and appetite, faith and transformation, real food and reality television.”

Here is tomorrow coming at us a 120 miles an hour: a world that commodifies everything, connectedness that that goes hand in hand with loneliness and hunger…hunger, hunger. All offered in near-absurdist vision that feels just one step removed from real.

So? Is it just another one of those crazy, depressing, near-dystopic books I like and that make booksellers look at me peculiarly? For sure—but check out the reviews below. It seems like everyone feels Kleeman’s got something going on here.

Kleeman’s debut novel is a fever dream of modern alienation following A, a young woman living in an unnamed city with B, her roommate, who has a tendency to bite people when she feels cornered. A has a boyfriend, C, who makes things ‘suddenly, instantaneously normal, just by explaining them.’ But A’s dull proofreading job and her idle time spent watching Shark Week and porn with C start fading away, and events grow increasingly hallucinatory as B begins trying to look more like A (including cutting off her braid and giving it to A), and C becomes more distant. This is a world in which a man buys a supermarket’s entire stock of veal, and something called Disappearing Dad Disorder runs rampant….In the third act, a religious cult in which members wear ghostlike sheets takes center stage; members subsist entirely on a synthetic dessert snack called Kandy Kakes and are instructed to ‘misremember’ (erase their own memories through meditative concentration). Kleeman’s story is not really like any other….It’s a testament to Kleeman’s ability that the text itself blurs and begins to run together—that it seems composed more of a uniform, ephemeral language than of a series of discrete scenes. This is a challenging novel, but undoubtedly one with something to say. One wonders what Kleeman will come up with next.”
Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“Alexandra Kleeman’s debut novel is brilliant, incisive, and exactly how to send off summer with a bang. Written masterfully, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is a biting cultural indictment on what we see, think, do, and eat — especially while being a woman. It’s the tall drink of water we all need… except this one gets poured over our heads to wake us up.”

“The smartest, strangest novel I’ve read in a while.”
Paris Review, Staff Pick

“This debut novel by future superstar Alexandra Kleeman will be the thing to be seen reading this summer. Pick it up if you want to up your summer cool factor….Very funny, perfectly weird, a hyperintelligent commentary on a culture obsessed with you and fame.”
Vanity Fair

“Excellent . . . Sprinkled with detailed summaries of invented advertisements, the book describes a consumer landscape just on the far side of plausible… Specifically, it’s a book about having a female body…. Women’s bodies are so often seen through the lens of sex: as objects of desire, as subjects claiming their own right to desire and be desired, as some combination of the above. (Think of almost any memoir or novel about women described as “honest” or “fearless” or ‘unapologetic.’) And while Kleeman doesn’t ignore sex, she sets it aside as a governing principle. The female body: What to do with it? You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is a story about realizing you’re hungry and trying to find out what for.”

Kleeman is, clearly, writing in a postmodernist mode. Her ambition is huge, and, at the level of the sentence, she’s amazing.”
   — Kirkus Reviews

 In a day and age where the unreality of our communication technologies has become the reality of our daily lives; in a world where the visual seems to be increasingly more important than the physical, Kleeman has captured the essence of this reversal and made literary gold from the knowledge.

The central characters are…unreal and hyper-real at the same time. A is a young woman living in this unnamed city with her roommate B, who increasingly works to become more like A. A and her boyfriend C spend most of their time together simply watching a television landscape filled with products increasingly interchangeable and harmful to the consumer.  Chief among them is an inorganic and barely edible product called Kandy Kakes.

Kandy Kakes ads consist of a cartoon character called Kandy Kat chasing a real-looking, walking, talking Kandy Kake through a cartoon landscape. Like the coyote pursuing the road-runner, the gaunt and ravenous Kandy Kat cannot catch his prey. In these ads, the consumer and the consumed have reversed their roles. Kandy Kat is ravenous, as is A, B and, in his own way, the character of C.… Kleeman brings an Alice in Wonderland genius to the questions of identity, religion and corporate consumerism.”
 Karen Tallant, Booksellers at Laurelwood

“I compare You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine to Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. There’s a sick sense of humor throughout both books that I love. But while Niffenegger lures us into a dark, romantic, classic London, Kleeman keeps us wide awake in an ugly and entirely recognizable suburbia that’s all sprawl.  I wholly identified with the protagonist throughout, even though I was uncomfortable. I’ve not read a book like this before, and I love to be immersed and surprised over and over again as I was in this novel.”
 Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN

“You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is impossible to summarize. It is hilarious. It is deeply unnerving. It is strange, propulsive, philosophical and reveltory. It may be a Department of Defense field experiment. It is like nothing I’ve ever read. The story is too bizarre to effectively summarize, but it is no way beside the point. Kleeman takes on our modern existence, our capitalist, consumerist, and mediated lives, puts a clown nose on this existence while simultaneously gutting it with a prison shiv. Her prose flows like a broken Jacuzzi, it warmly envelops then periodically blasts you from unexpected angles. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine explores and transmits the disconnect one feels in a place and time where even the imitation of a fake is packaged off as real and the real feels but a simulacrum for a fake we’ve been previously sold. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is bright. It’s brilliant. It’s the real thing.”
— Matt Nixon, The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine (9780062388674) Alexandra Kleeman. $25.99 hardcover. 8/25/14 on sale.

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