Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind
by Molly McGhee
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Pub Date 17 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 29 Nov 2023
Astra Publishing House, Astra House
—Rafael Frumkin, Washington Post
"This laugh-out-loud debut is a wildly imaginative, tender and piercing critique of the squeeze of capitalism."
—Xochitl Gonzalez, Good Morning America
"A scathing critique of capitalism that holds onto the humanity of its characters."
—Laura Zornosa, TIME
Jonathan Abernathy is a self-proclaimed loser. . . he’s behind on his debts, has no prospects, no friends, and no ambitions. But when a government loan forgiveness program offers him a literal dream job, he thinks he’s found his big break. If he can appear to be competent at his new job, entering the minds of middle class workers while they sleep and removing the unsavory detritus of their waking lives from their unconscious, he might have a chance at a new life. As Abernathy finds his footing in this role, reality and morality begin to warp around him. Soon, the lines between life and work, love and hate, right and wrong, even sleep and consciousness, begin to blur.
Molly McGhee touches on themes most people know all too well—the relentlessly crushing weight of debt, the recognition that work won’t love you back and the awkwardness of finding love when you are without hope. A workplace novel, at once tender, startling, and deeply funny, Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind is a stunning, critical work of surrealist fiction, a piercing critique of late-stage capitalism, and a reckoning with its true cost.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 61 members
This was very unique and interesting. Johathan Abernathy finds himself falling behind and in so much debt. He gets a job offer as a dream auditor and things get even weirder, At times, I wished there was more to this novel, and I wish it had focused on different details, but, it's such a different take on capitalism and the wealth divide in a very sci-fi, almost dystopian way. Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publsiher!
Let's talk about late stage capitalism and auditing dreams for nightmarish content to clean up an employees subconscious so they become more productive at work. Who wants that kind of job? Not to help people, but to help corporations. People who are desperate, that's who. Jonathan Abernathy is desperate. Sometimes he 'lies' to himself with peptalks to get through the day. Jonathan Abernathy you are kind. You are loved. You are a valued member of this community. It's hard to keep lying to yourself the more you learn about the scummy truth behind your job (and how it's impacting loved ones). But how do you reconcile those feelings when you are finally able to start chipping away at the mountain of debt you've accumulated?
I loved getting my heart ripped out by this. I found myself in Mr. Abernathy in ways and hated myself for it.
Please please please pick this up when it comes out.
I really enjoyed reading this, it had a great concept overall and I was hooked from the first page. Molly Mcghee has a great writing style that I enjoyed a lot, it has everything that I was looking for from the description. It left me wanting to read more in this type of story.
"You don’t understand how this works. You don’t know what this is or how jobs like this work. Try to really critically think about why they offered a job to you. Think about what you may be giving up or why you may be stuck here. I didn’t get to, but everyone—even you”—she gives him a look here, which even in the dark Abernathy can tell is scathing—“should get the opportunity to know what they’re getting into.”
Thank you so much to NetGalley, the publisher and Molly McGhee for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This book is like nothing I have ever read, and it is just fantastic. I’ll try to keep the details of the book I share in this review minimal, because I feel like this is truly a story you should go into completely blind and really just experience it.
The writing in this was excellent. It’s not overly lyrical (which I personally like) but the way Molly McGhee communicated emotion through her writing was stunning. In doing so, a book about the way capitalism essentially forces the humanity out of people is told in such a human way and you really feel for Abernathy and the other characters. It also helps a book about literal capitalism feel a lot more accessible (especially for someone like me, this was a little out of my comfort zone). Shockingly, despite being an emotional sad time (those last two chapters really get to you, I literally cried myself to the end) this book is so funny. Obviously humour is subjective, but it worked so well for me and definitely balances out the more serious topics in the book nicely.
I also loved the characters in this book. Each character is so flawed but the way in which they are written allows you to sympathise with even the most detestable character in this book because the issue isn’t the people, it’s the system. And as the characters were so well-developed, they never felt like they were being used as vessels for a greater commentary. Rather, the critiques being made came through as a result of great character work (this is what we love to see!).
The plot was engaging and the light speculative/sci-fi element in the book brought something different to the table and I really liked that it wasn’t over explained. The sort of plot twist that happened towards the end was extremely well done as well.
My only critique of this book (and this is minor, I promise) is that the book does really well at providing subtle commentary throughout, but this would occasionally be followed by a more obvious statement that I felt was implied (others might feel differently to me on this, so take it with a grain of salt). Sometimes, this kind of undermined the subtly we got before this but this only happened from time to time in the first half and I’m only noting this because I don’t really have any other criticism otherwise (can you tell I’m like kind of in love with this book?).
I, as you can probably tell by now, loved this! It’s brilliant debut and I would urge everyone to pick this up when it comes out!
A really unique take on capitalism. I did not overly connect with the characters though and felt this detracted from the book. Definitely one to read though - a really interesting premise.
A great take on the hold corporations have on the world and truly terrible people can be. I thought this was a fun and unique book with a great take on darker topics yet written through the voice of a quirky character. Jonathan was a great character and written really skilfully, I loved seeing his character arc as well and it worked really well with the dystopian feel of the book almost like a light vs dark scenario. Overall a fun read and I would recommend.
I really enjoyed Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind. I liked the author's writing in really fleshing out the characters and showing their vulnerabilities. I liked the speculative element and it wasn't too heavy. While at times funny, the book had a sad tone as well.
Extremely entertaining read and also thought provoking with its look on what capitalism and corporations do in the name of more and more profits told through a story with very interesting characters and premise. Enjoyed Jonathan Abernathy (the character) a lot, as well as his interactions with the other main/side characters in the story and when it went always from those interactions in parts of the book, it was the less enjoyable parts of a really good book.
Parts of the book were confusing at times and Im not sure if I fully understood how everything "worked" or even if I was suppose to considering the idea behind the book. However the confusing bits of it really don't take much away from how solid the book was.
Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind is the sort of book where I wish I had the brain cells to review it in depth. If only I had studied English lit after GCSE, but alas! I did not. So, this review is what you’re going to get.
With this story, we follow the eponymous Jonathan Abernathy who is, to put it bluntly, quite pathetic. Further, through no fault of his own, he’s stuck at the bottom of society, debt ridden and unable to get out of it. It’s a vicious circle: every time he might make it out, the anchor of his debt and the lien that comes with it pulls him back down. So, when he’s offered a job that frees him of said debt, you can see why he would jump at the chance and dismiss any concerns that it’s too good to be true.
Ultimately, this is a book examining capitalism and debt and desperation. About the lies people tell themselves so as not to sink under its weight. You empathise with Abernathy even as he makes shitty decisions because, at the end of the day, all of the options he has are shitty in their own way. He’s so desperate to longer be desperate, he tells himself that he’s not deserving of the situation he finds himself in, that he is deserving of this better opportunity that appears to come this way, even as everyone warns him against it. Even as things start to go wrong.
I think this book, then, is also a critique of the American Dream. That someone can drag themselves up by the bootstraps and make something of themselves through sheer hard work. Because Abernathy tries, he spends the entire book just trying, and finds himself getting nowhere. I mean, the only chance he even has of doing so is to fully immerse himself in it, to believe that he’s getting somewhere, when he gets this job which, ultimately, is about exploiting people. Abernathy’s own desperation is exploited, so that he’s thankful for the job, thankful that he can finally rise up out of everything, and doesn’t question what they’re actually doing. And the job itself is about the enhancement of a capitalist system, where workers have no concerns except work.
It’s interesting to have chosen Abernathy to take the role of main character here. As a character, he is sympathetic, but also he might tempt you into thinking that, in his situation, you would do better. You would stick to your guns, your morals, and not fall into the trap that he does. But, until you find yourself as desperate as he is, there’s no way of knowing that. This is a book that makes you examine your own preconceptions and biases, in an entirely human way. You feel for Abernathy, and Rhoda and Timmy, and you want them all to make it out. You want there to be a good kind of fairy godmother showing up to save them because, following Abernathy’s affirmations, they deserve it. But at the same time, you know that that’s not going to happen, that the more likely outcome sees them chewed up by the capitalist maw.
What I hope I’ve got across here is that this is a book everyone should read, one that I highly recommend. It’s a book about impossible choices, about relationships formed under those conditions, and an entirely human one at that.
the only word i have to say about this book now that ive finished is grim. as humorous as it could be at times, this book was a crushing read - a great metaphor about how far the world could fall if we let it, where we are at now, and with a hard ending about what we need to do to stop it.
this was such a unique take on the soul-sucking nature of capitalism, and the little bit of magical realism that made this possible really spoke to me.
i thought abernathy's narration was so true to the human experience though, or at least to mine. he worries so much about the way others perceive him and barely stops to focus on what he is doing to make himself happy. because he was so caught up in his own head as well, a lot of the side characters get left behind and you don't really find out what happens to them after, which while i found so heartbreaking i also found really true to the story that this book set out to tell. abernathy could have found community. he could have found family. but he committed so hard to capitalism to be the only way to determine his worth that by the end he couldn't find his way out of it.
Jonathan Abernathy is not overly bright or interesting, he had no family, and he has an astronomical amount of debt, with no way out. He’s been unemployed for months. He’s behind on rent. And then, he’s recruited one night. In his dreams. Abernathy is ushered into a debt-repayment dream job, literally working to remove the unsavoury dreams of people who are being distracted by their lives instead of being good workers.
This is a darkly hilarious story, wandering through time and dreams, sometimes a little muddled, but mostly very sharp and funny, while bleakly wandering through the grim reality of debt and capitalism. For all of us who enjoy class critiques and strange fantasy worlds.
Jonathan Abernathy is unhappy. He is lonely and broke and lacking in any particular skill and tired of life (even though he sleeps 10 hours a night). He is presented with a very specific job opportunity. This does not happen the way job opportunities normally present themselves. No, Jonathan Abernathy is visited in a dream, not by God but by serious looking people in suits. And he is offered a way out of his misery.
While not in any direct way a horror novel, the almost post-apocalyptic capitalism that forms the basic framework for Earth anno Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind is /quite/ the horror. Abernathy's new job is to audit people's dreams, and suggest ways to improve them - to make them happier in order to improve their work performance. Actively unhappy people don't make as much money as people who are okay.
The entire book feels a little like a dream. Time passes slowly, sometimes, and then months will pass. The story itself takes quite a while to pick up pace, to start to grasp the way everything ties together in the end. Even though I really like how intentively stylised the writing was - and it fits the themes and settings of the book really well - it also kept me at a slight distance at all times. Jonathan Abernathy's head is not a kind place to be - it's heavy and sad and filled with as much longing as inertia. Jonathan Abernathy is kind. Or at least he tries to be. But how do you remain kind when the world feels set up against you and the people you love?
This novel is like if Greg from Succession was trapped in a late-stage capitalism hellscape that slowly transformed him from victim to enabler....oh wait. But genuinely, Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind is a dark, depressing portrait of corporate greed run amuck, with the titular character being a poverty stricken college dropout who is recruited by a mysterious corporation to sift through the dreams of employees in order to encourage productivity and discourage personal focus. This job is nightmarish both literally and figuratively, as Jonathan's financial desperation and overwhelming self-doubt blinds him to the horrible reality of his service. Don't go into this book looking for a happy ending or an easy read, as it is grim look at the consequences of nihilistic corporate greed that are the reality for millions of Americans.
What struck me most about this novel was its nuanced exploration of chronic poverty. Being poor impacts every single aspect of Jonathan's life, from his social battery to his relationships to his sleep to his mood. McGhee eviscerates the antiquated concept of the poor needing to pull themselves out of poverty by their own force of will, exploring how capitalism and terribly designed governmental systems merge to make socioeconomic escalation all but impossible. I was especially struck by her commentary on the often predatory nature of student loans, and how a person who can't legally drink or vote can become crushed a lifetime of debt simply for the crime of wanting an education. McGhee also deconstructs the meaning of mortality in a corporate world: is easy to condemn service employees for working at awful companies, but such principles are often a luxury in the face of a system that violently enforces class divides and blocks social mobility.
Take Jonathan Abernathy and put him in the trolley problem. As the onlooker, he can save five people in danger of being hit by a trolley or divert the trolley only to kill one person. Now add in some factors for different scenarios:
- His boss ordering him to choose the five people
- Jonathan by himself with no contact with the people on the trolley’s path
Take Jonathan from the beginning and the end of the book and his choice will remain the same but for different reasons. This is because Jonathan Abernathy is a man influenced by the perception of other people around him. He carries with him an imaginary audience that criticizes his every move and as a reader I felt myself become a part of his audience. He unknowably places a crutch on himself that leads him to his preventable doom.
I was frustrated with Abernathy. I wanted to shake him for his decisions but that is why the story is so intriguing. We know his fate from the very first paragraph and yet the journey is what keeps the reader going. Yes, there are themes that even a simpleton like me can pick out: Corporate greed. The loss of human connection in the pursuit of the ‘American Dream’. Late-stage capitalism and how it enslaves its workers. The abuse of the lower working class companies exploit. How indecisiveness kills.
The focus is on Jonathan and his life living in this near future late capitalism scenario. Because of how our main character views things plot points I would have liked to see fleshed out even more can be almost entirely skipped because Abernathy does not deem it important. For example, I wanted to explore more with how you can discern what sort of symbolic burden the dreamer is facing because dream exploration is one of my favorite scenarios but to Abernathy, this was his night shift. This wasn’t some interesting premise this is a job he has to fill a quota for.
Because of my own preferences with a need to deep dive into any detail I find all the more interesting it is four stars. But truly Molly McGhee has accomplished what she has set out to do and executed it extremely well. It's humorously funny, frustrating, and creepy.
Jonathan Abernathy, you are kind. You make mistakes but you will find a way to fix at least one of them even if you receive no reward.
This book was one hell of a ride, and I have a feeling it'll be one of the most talked about releases in the fall. I devoured it in just over a day. Molly McGhee is the real deal. Thanks to the publishers for the e-galley!
It takes a special kind of writer to make something riotously funny, yet precise and word-perfect to the degree it feels like it was assembled by the engineers at CERN. Not even just a great debut, this is simply a great book.
Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind is a brilliant and original debut novel that explores the absurdities and horrors of late capitalism through the eyes of a hapless dream worker. Jonathan Abernathy is a loser who can't pay his debts, has no friends, and no future. Maybe you know someone like him or maybe you even see yourself in him. However, luck appears to be on his side when he gets a chance to work for the government's loan forgiveness program. This job is not what it sounds like. His job is to enter the minds of other middle-class workers while they sleep and remove the unwanted memories, emotions, and thoughts that might interfere with their productivity. But as he becomes more immersed in his work, he starts to lose his grip on reality and morality and discovers that his dream job might be a nightmare. Basically, he is creating an army of workers by removing what makes people human. The concept of this was so frightening but also believable given the trends of AI and American ideals. Molly McGhee writes with a sharp wit, a vivid imagination, and a keen sense of social critique. She creates a surreal and dystopian world that is both hilarious and horrifying, where nothing is as it seems, and everything, of course, has a price. It is very Black Mirror and makes you think through everything about your own interactions with technology and other people. She also crafts memorable characters that are flawed, funny, and relatable. This makes the world you are thrust into even more believable because all of the characters are so real. I experienced so many emotions when reading and this book was unlike anything else I have ever read. I felt my brain expanding. This is a novel for anyone who has ever felt trapped by debt, work, or society, and who has ever wondered what it means to be human in a world that treats people as commodities or has felt that way. So basically, everyone can benefit from reading this book. It is a novel that challenges the status quo and offers a glimpse of hope in the midst of despair. The premise of this novel will stay with me for a very long time. Thank you to NetGalley for my copy.
Being a working stiff sucks, and Molly McGhee knows that just as well as anybody. How wonderful, then, that she invested Jonathan Abernathy with such honest human frailty in the pursuit of a damn good story about WORK. What it means to work, why we do it, who we're really serving... it's both kind of funny and terribly depressing, it's richly phantasmagorical, it's the kind of book where you hope hope hope that it will turn out different but the first page tells you all you need to know and McGhee delivers on her promise. With her debut, McGhee joins the ranks of the modern dreamy masters like Alexandra Kleeman, Ben Marcus, Hilary Leichter, and J. Robert Lennon.
I don't know if this makes sense but I mean it as the highest compliment: this is like the tv show Severance as a book. The FEELING, the vibe, the uncertainty, not the actual story line. I loved it. What a fresh and quirky book. Add it to your list for fall!
The hype for Molly McGhee's amazingly titled JONATHAN ABERNATHY YOU ARE KIND is good and true. The badass cover drew me in, but the surreal waking nightmare of this book, which is all about the waking nightmare of capitalism, was a wild ride to read.
Jonathan Abernathy has debt. A lot of it. He's also a bit dull, lonely, and in need of a good job. So, when strange figures come to him in a dream to go to a storefront because they have a job opportunity for him, he does it. And there, he finds out he can also be one of those people who visits people's dreams in order to keep workers in line and, depressingly, let them know it could always be worse.
McGhee's writing is a revelation, as is this classic story of frauds and pyramid schemes (sorry, no spoilers!) The characters are fully realized and while the story is a bit grim and ends on a depressing note, it was still a joy to read and I can't wait for more from McGhee in the future. This a fantastic witty and sharp book, and a fantastic debut.
Gorgeous and unsettling. I inhaled this book in one sitting, unable to break away from the language and incisive worldbuilding. This is a beautiful, surreal, and unsettling book that I am happy to recommend.
WOW! This unique book has a perfectly fitting singular and memorable title and its pages are ones I wont' forget. I truly haven't read an indictment on capitalism and the 1% like McGhee pulls off here. I devoured this book and will be demanding everyone I know reads it.
Jonathan Abernathy is such a strange, strange book. On one hand, it is quirky, but on the other, it is depressing, and if you had a third hand, it would be quite heartfelt. Jonathon Abernathy does not have a third hand, however. What he does have is beaucoup debt. Like tons. And like most of us in this late-stage capitalist dystopia, he feels like he's drowning. And he actually is, because he is in an even later stage capitalist dystopia, olé!
I don't really know how to describe this book, or what I want to tell you about it. That sounds weird, right? Well, it's a weird book! In a good way, mind. And Jonathan Abernathy is... he's different than your usual main character, but again, it works. Nothing about this book should work, frankly, yet it does. It absolutely does. And I daresay if it didn't feel a wee bit sloggy in the middle, I'd be giving it a full five.
Jonathan Abernathy is everyone. He's also no one. That is to say, he is the most mundane random guy in the history of mundane random guys. He's inoffensive, but if you passed him on the street, ten bucks says he wouldn't even register on your radar, let alone leave any impression. He's certainly pleasant enough that you care about him on a human level, but you'll scratch your head at his sheer incompetence at life. But he also makes you think: how many people are really out there killing it at life, especially in Capitalism Hell™?
This world he lives it, which is not very far removed from our own, is bleak as sin, and I think that may be why the middle felt a little rough. Even though the book is witty and quirky, sometimes the bummer of humanity got a little... much, especially when you knew things were not exactly coming up roses for our pal Abernathy. The bleakness is quiet, and I don't know if that makes it easier or harder, frankly. However, the book has a very heartfelt quality to it that somehow makes up for all that. The minutiae of Abernathy's life and the relationships he tries (and sometimes fails, but alas) to make, his earnestness, they make it all feel very worthwhile. And perhaps that's the point: it is worthwhile, no matter if you are an Abernathy or the next Nobel Prize winner.
Bottom Line: Quirky and earnest and sure, a bit depressing, Jonathan Abernathy is unique, and unlike its titular character, wholly unforgettable.
Jonathan Abernathy is down on his luck -- he can't make enough to both pay down his debt and his expenses, he has no real prospects for a job, and he does not have any friends. So he is receptive when he gets a surprising offer -- if he works as a dream inspector removing unpalatable memories from office workers, he will not only earn more money than he has ever before, he will eventually be able to pay down his loans. He does not think much about what the job entails, even as it increasingly raises questions about whether it is as benign as has been presented. At first, the job seems like a dream come true. It gives Jonathan the time and resources to finally get on his feet and even build real human connection for the first time in a while. But gradually the pressures of the job, and realities of what it involves, makes Jonathan wonder if this dream is actually a nightmare.
This is a well-written and perceptive story, exploring interesting and timely themes. This is one you will continue thinking about long after you have put the book down. I'm excited to see what comes next from this author.
Jonathan Abernathy is the embodiment of a self-proclaimed loser, grappling with debts, joblessness, and the crushing weight of late-stage capitalism. Molly McGhee's newest book offers a unique and surreal take on contemporary life.
The government's loan forgiveness program gives Abernathy a seemingly miraculous escape—an unconventional job that lets him delve into the minds of middle-class workers while they sleep, purging their unconscious of life's undesirable baggage. As he delves deeper into this unusual role, the lines between reality and morality blur. Work, life, love, and morals meld into a surreal journey.
McGhee masterfully delves into the harsh realities of late-stage capitalism, portraying a tender yet startling workplace. Her storytelling is a balance of dark comedy and deep emotions, leaving you questioning the boundaries between dreams and reality, work and life, and love and despair.
What sets this book apart is its deep understanding of the human condition, tackling the relentless grind of life and the search for love amid hopelessness. It's a thought-provoking critique of contemporary society that sticks with you long after the last page.
Thanks so much to the publisher as well as NetGalley for an opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts!
Thanks to Astra House and NetGalley for the ARC of this.
I've been excited about this one since I saw the one-line description and RIYL on an early-in-the-year 2023 books to get excited about list, and my expectations were exceeded.
This is speculative fiction but grounded in reality, horror adjacent without any major scares other than the Constant Looming Spectre of What Capitalism Does To People, and you should definitely check this out if you're a fan of either Severance (the Ling Ma novel) or Severance (the Apple TV+ show that has nothing to do with the Ling Ma novel).
Mixed feelings about this one. Some great lines though but they were few and far between. The story itself felt original and fresh though. The first 40-50% of the story is just so slow I think some readers will bail before the story actually takes off. The beginning reminds me a bit of Beau is Afraid.
I can honestly say this is a perfect book to read in an office cubicle far away from any windows. Really adds to the feeling of despair. My own personal setting aside, this is an amazing book, and one that will resonate with a lot of people, especially millennials like me who got told to take out mountains of loans for college because college was the only way to make good money (hahahaha...good one). Abernathy is a perfect guide through his work and the dreamworld, earnest enough to get into situations he has no business being in and depressed enough for the reader to identify with. The book is stunning and heartfelt, even with the constant sense of foreboding throughout.
(Full disclosure: The author taught a fiction class I took a couple of months ago, but I still would've loved the book without knowing her.)
Jonathan Abernathy is in financial peril. To work off his debt, he takes a job entering the minds and sanitizing the dreams of American workers. What could go wrong Disturbing and darkly funny, McGhee’s surrealist debut is sure to keep readers up at night. — Serena Puang
Thank you to Netgalley and the Publishers for this Advanced Readers Copy of Jonathan Abernathy You are Kind by Molly McGhee!
Wonky, dystopian work place tragicomedy mixed with Inception. Jonathan is drowning in debt and needs a job, any job. He's hired for the government to "clean-up" people's dreams, remove any or all things that may distract an employee during their day job. Will appeal to fans of Severance and Sorry to Bother You.