Sunday, May 28, 2017

Book Review: 'Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To' by Annabelle Gurwitch

Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To
By Annabelle Gurwitch

Review by David Wineberg

Annabelle Gurwitch has looked at other families’ mottos and mission statements, and has decided hers should be: “In our family, no one can hear you scream”. It comes early in her new book, Wherever You Go, There They Are, and sets you up for a rollercoaster of family stories. Gurwitch is all about sarcasm and mild exasperation, and her stories paint a false but entertaining picture covering up her love for everyone.

It’s not nearly the horror of some families, but when told properly – as by Gurwitch – it can be hilarious: “For some people, ‘family’ means people who you don’t mind seeing your dirty dishes and unmade beds. In my family, it means you must scour your home for days before inviting them in or they will embarrass you by cleaning it themselves in front of you.”

The first story, the setup, is by far the best. She develops her characters and relationships, and lets them loose on the world. Unfortunately, she seems to run out of material early, and several essays have nothing to do with her family being there at all. She takes herself to an adult summer camp in northern California. She investigates multilevel marketing scams where women sell each other (mostly) cosmetics they don’t need, for essentially no profit to themselves. And she checks out life in an agnostic church. But she does it with panache, sarcasm and eventual self-awareness – her trademarks - so it’s worthwhile.

Gurwitch makes massive use of footnotes, editorial comments really, one or two pretty much every page. They could have been just as effective in brackets in the text. On Kindles, it’s a real pain to scroll down to them, usually for very little payoff, and then scroll back to where you left off if you can find it. The worst is when they continue to the bottom of the next page. But all humorous essayists seem to want to do it these days. It’s the fashion of the era, apparently. Too bad for the reader.

Gurwitch turns out to be a caring, compassionate being, whose genetic makeup brings out the lying fabulist of the past (at least) two generations of Gurwitches. She puts it to fine use.

Editor's note: This review was has been reposted with permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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