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You're Not You: A Novel Paperback – July 24, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Wildgen's first novel centers on Bec, a self-absorbed college student drifting through school and an affair with a married poetry professor, and it shows real promise. When Bec takes a summer job caring for Kate, a young married woman with Lou Gehrig's disease, it seems easy to spot the formula: lost soul comes of age through the wisdom and resolve of the terminally ill. Where Bec is anxious and aimless, Kate is sarcastic and at peace; despite paralysis, she teaches Bec to cook extravagant meals, fund-raises for ALS research and spouts wicked one-liners. But when Kate kicks out her cheating husband, Evan, Wildgen's writing becomes clear and determined, daring to spotlight an almost taboo subject—the need for sex among the sick. As Bec takes on more of Evan's roles, eventually moving into Kate's house, Bec's deep and conflicted feelings for her charge allow Wildgen to navigate the complicated moral territory of Evan's, or any young spouse's, responsibility to his terminally ill partner. The brash tone that weighs down the beginning of the novel becomes more credible and critical as Bec subsumes the powerful voice of her near-voiceless charge. Wildgen's debut showcases the talent that won her inclusion in Best New American Voices 2004, and should take her further still. (June)
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“Michelle Wildgen writes with a fresh, appealing honesty and has done a marvelous job of capturing that youthful moment in our lives when we are like sponges ready to soak up someone else's character, taste, and charm.” ―Francine Prose, People (four stars, Critic's Choice)
“A complex and satisfying dish: a story of intimate strangers and their impact on each other's lives.” ―O, The Oprah Magazine
“A fresh, accomplished first novel . . . tackles challenging material with honesty and a clear eye.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“A deeply sensual book.” ―The Believer
“Wildgen's debut showcases the talent that won her inclusion in Best New American Voices 2004, and should take her further still.” ―Publishers Weekly
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Top customer reviews
Completely disappointed in the end. I see myself in Bec. Her insecurities, her keen intuition for people's needs, her kind and fragile heart. At first I was comforted by the thought that the author might, too, be this way. But after reading the ending, I have come to conclusion I was wrong. Nobody with that pressing need to CARE for others would leave the reader with the void of non resolution for beloved characters.
Bec, the college party girl, has a tangled life. She is no longer close to her parents (since she moved out to college), she is happily involved with a married college professor (luckily, not HERS), and doesn't mind working at a deadend waitressing job (she doesn't typically stay in one job for more than a few months anyway) Until one day, she is sipping coffee and stumbles upon a "wanted" ad for a caregiver- no experience necessary. She knows by hearing stories from her nursing best girlfriend that caregiving pays decent wages and thinks it will be something "new" to tide her over the summer break from college.
Meet Kate, a thirty-something woman with grace and elegance, regardless of her confinement to her wheelchair and little to no movements from her body parts. On Bec's first day, she watches Kate's husband, Evan, put on her make-up, put her in and out of chairs and beds, as well as feed her through a tube in her stomach. It doesn't seem so bad, watching Evan do the work. Seems to have a rhythm.
Until Day Two, when Evan and Kate tell Bec that she should really be "thrown in" and Evan sits back to watch Bec navigate his wife through rising and putting her to bed, feeding, make-up and even washing Kate in the shower. Kate has basically no movement abilities. She can slur her words, but cannot move her legs or arms or even her neck at times. She has the ability to eat regular food, but since she has such limited muscle movement, it takes quite a bit of time to chew one bite.
Throughout about half the story, we see how attached Bec becomes to Kate over the course of a few months. She is at Kate's side throughout all dinner parties, weddings, etc- translating what Kate says to her friends and family. When Bec is with Kate, she is almost not "even there". She is a "part" of Kate, speaking for her- showing emotion for her... living for her.
Eventually, Bec starts to lose a sense of who she is- and even starts to mimic Kate's desires and actions into her own life. Can she handle having a dishonest relationship with her professor? Can she allow her mother to disrespect her beliefs? Can she cook? Can she handle living alone?
"You're Not You" was a very good story. At times it was too focues on the whole eating thing. I don't care to read about how food is prepared over and over, so sometimes I skimmed over those parts. I think it needed a little more inner dialogue on Bec's part regarding her OWN life. She seemed to think a lot about Kate and Evan's lives, but not nearly as much on her own. Bec and Kate grew too close too quickly- I couldn't believe that part quite right. Bec's mother needed to be smacked- for always second guessing her.
"You're Not You" is very detailed for what I'm impressed to learn is Wildgen's first novel. Great job! The story stayed with me for a few days!
This book is worth it to read.