4.5 stars, not the book I thought I was getting when I started reading it, and not the book I needed right now, but this one still managed to make me laugh, hope, fear, feel.
This is a well written book. It has some fine lines, a few well-conceived set pieces, a fair share of perceptive and insightful observations, and occasionally a lean and edgy narrative drive. The premise is enticing, and I can see the book's appeal, regarding both style and content, for its target audience. That said, try as I might I found neither the characters, nor their situations, nor the overall narrative and its execution engaging enough to arouse or hold my curiosity and attention. As a consequence, it doesn't seem fair to write much more of a review, apart from encouraging inquisitive readers to give the book a try.
Ooof ok. Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind has the intention of being a take on corporate America and wealth and people with low-income being stuck in a cycle of generational poverty that is impossible to get out from under, which is a topic I’m interested in and certainly present, however the presentation of it all is tedious.
Molly McGhee seems to be striving for a Pynchon-esque tone (which is my least favorite tone, but plenty of people love him. Maybe you’re one of them!) that ultimately reads as disjointed and repetitive. The light sci-fi plot revolves around Jonathan Abernathy going inside white collar workers’ dreams and removing their anxieties, so that they can better perform at work and all I could think while reading is-this is like listening to someone endlessly recount a dream, ie uninteresting, rambling, doesn’t make sense.
McGhee has a MFA from Columbia, where she also taught in the creative writing department, as well as worked in the editorial department of many acclaimed publishers and literary magazines. I’m wondering if the problem is me, the Pynchon of it all, or if others had similar reading experiences.
Although the plots are wildly different, the writing style of this one reminded me a lot of Y/N by Esther Yi, which I also struggled with, but lots of very cool, very respectable literary people loved.
Thank you to the author Molly McGhee, publishers Astra House Books, and as always NetGalley, for an advance digital copy of JONATHAN ABERNATHY YOU ARE KIND. All views are mine.
Three (or more) things I loved:
1. The student loan bit is amazing. It shows the character's vulnerability and its a relatable and only relationally political issue: Abernathy’s life? It’s looking up! Though Abernathy has over $250,000 in loans with more than a 10 percent annual interest... no career prospects, a tenuous-at-best living arrangement, untold debt inherited after his parents’ death..., Abernathy is happy.... Bankruptcy? Put on hold, baby.... Paychecks (should he receive them in the future)? No longer being automatically confiscated by the US of A. This? This is the stuff of life itself. loc.240 It also establishes the kind of hero the book has on offer-- an ordinary one.
2. I love the concept of a character, especially an unlikeable one, being paid to go into people's dreams and, like, fix them.
3. The author makes some enlightening statements about sleep, like: Abernathy watches her. She is thirtysix, he realizes, but she is very young. They are both very young. Maybe people are young forever, but it’s only in sleep that we can see. loc. 2037
4. Abernathy is Little Orphan Annie meets Monk. He's hilarious. Awkward to the point of destruction, but completely optimistic and driven!
Three (or less) things I didn't love:
This section isn't only for criticisms. It's merely for items that I felt something for other than "love" or some interpretation thereof.
1. So this narrative did not do what I expected it to do. It kind of took an INCEPTION meets THE MATRIX vibe, minus all the fighting. I'm not sure I hung in there with it.
2. I love both the beginning and end of this one, but the middle gets a little thick for me.
Rating: 💤👀💤.5 vision naps
Finished: Oct 18 '23
Format: Digital, Kindle, NetGalley
Read this book if you like:
⏳️ creative timelines
🤠 ordinary extraordinary heroes
🦶 big twists
💇♀️ women's coming of age
What a wonderful debut! I will read whatever Molly McGhee writes. This is one of those books that I continue to think about after I finish.
Overhyped, interesting premise, half-baked execution. I'd be interested to see another book from the author after she's had a few more years to develop, but this one didn't perform to expectations.
This was a weird, wild and unexpected novel that took some twists and turns but ultimately was incredibly emotional, deeply felt, and lovely. I openly weeped in many parts and didn't expect the run-up to the end to hurt quite so much.
This sounds so good and I tried but I’ve given up. My ARC formatting was messed up and it made me frustrated to read this. So I’m just adding this to my TBR and buying it instead now that it’s out and properly formatted.
A frustrating read; powerfully evokes the sinkhole of poverty but fails to offer a compelling speculative lens or metaphor for the experience.
A perfect novel to encompass all things Millennial dread. It's funny but in an existentially SCARY way.
I had both the book and the audio of this one. It was such a strange book, but really worked for me. I found it to be so unique and creative. It did not seem as if it would come together, but somehow it really does. I decided to try something out of my comfort zone and am so glad I did.
Jonathan Abernathy is deeply in debt, can’t find a decent job, and thinks he’s worthless. So, when he is offered a job as a dream auditor he is very enthused. That job entails going into workers’ dreams and auditing out the bad parts so the person will be more productive at work.
This is a dystopian tale using speculative fiction, but basically it’s about Jonathan trying so hard to make something of himself that he is willing to convince himself that this job can somehow work out ethically. It can’t. Jonathan starts to see a much darker side as the story progresses and yet he keeps trying. He wants to do well and he wants to please people, so he is a great character that I routed for. He doesn’t always make the best choices, but there is just a real human feel to the story. You can understand the choices and the fear he holds. He starts to feel his life finally will work, has intense feelings for his neighbor, Rhoda and cares for her daughter, Timmy. Yet, Rhoda’s life gets pulled into this mess, too. He wants to make things ok for Rhoda, but has he gone too far already?
I found his mantra of “You are Kind, You are Loved, You are a Valued Member of this Community” quite amusing. It’s a lie he must tell himself to keep going. It reminded me so much of the marketing done to convince people that if only they believe in themselves just a bit more, riches are waiting at their door.
Thank you NetGalley, Molly McGhee, and Astra Publishing House for a copy of this book and the audio version. I always leave reviews of books I read.
Love the premise and wild ride of this book! This grabbed me from the first sentence (death and work, two things that are guaranteed). "The debt of Jonathan Abernathy is large. Myriad. His loans..." I feel like I'm in a late stage capitalism fever dream fun house, help, I can't get out, yet I'm kinda intrigued, like maybe I would take a job as a dream auditor...? Didn't realize how much I needed this novel, or maybe the jobs I've worked and a pandemic prepared me for it. Thank you.
Jonathan Abernathy is jobless and drowning debt, so when he's offered a government job as a part of a loan forgiveness program, at first, he thinks it's a dream come true. He takes up the offer and audits the subconscious dreams of white-collar workers—removing any negative emotion that could prevent them from being productive at work.
However, as the nightmares start to take toll on him and he starts to question the ethics of his job, he begins to ask himself whether it's all worth it.
Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind by Molly McGhee delivers a wry, Kafka-esque commentary on the horrors of late-stage capitalism. It's a surreal, feverish satire that may be all-too-relatable for millennials or anyone who's ever worked an office job.
All in all, it's the perfect read for fans of cerebral sci-fi along the lines of Black Mirror.
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.
I was drawn to the description for this book because the concept reminded me of the tv show Severance, which I really enjoyed. I feel like there were some very compelling parts, however the third-person omniscient narration made the characters feel distant and difficult to connect to. Likely, this was a purposeful way to make the characters seem even more like cogs in the machine, however it also made me feel indifferent to the outcomes. I enjoyed the critique of capitalism, especially the section directly addressing how many men in middle management positions behave. Overall, this was an interesting, though fairly bleak, read.
Jonathan Abernathy is a hapless young man, up to his eyeballs in debt, and becomes an auditor of dreams to survive. In this dystopian world, dreams are audited to remove the bad parts to that workers will, theoretically, be more productive.
Despite the Severance vibes, I had trouble getting into this one. People describing their dreams, sometimes surreal and trippy, other times abstract and non-sensical...just isn't always that interesting. Distinguishing between the real world and the dream felt like too much work. This novel just wasn't my bag.
My thanks to NetGalley and Astra Publishing House for the ARC. Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind was published in October 2023.
Thank you to Netgalley and the Publishers for this Advanced Readers Copy of Jonathan Abernathy You are Kind by Molly McGhee!
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
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.)
I am… not sure how to feel about this book! Overall: Despite the three-star review I think I would recommend it. It's an engaging read and thought-provoking for sure. But I also feel it has some issues that I'm struggling to overlook.
The premise: Jonathan Abernathy, a depressed hot guy in his mid-twenties, has a boatload of debt from student loans and his dead parents' credit cards. He gets a job for a third-party contractor that sucks the bad parts out of people's dreams – the depression, the anxiety – in order to make them more efficient workers. This is an excellent and interesting premise! The book's message, which is that you cannot be a good person under capitalism, was smartly and finely drawn. And the book was compelling, for a reason that I can't quite put my finger on; the prose felt a little stilted to me, the plot not exactly breakneck, the characters not maximally lovable, but even so I read the whole book in two days. If it were only for this I would give it four stars.
But. I feel like it falls into the trap that a lot of "literary" fiction with a "speculative" element does, which is that it's only interested in the speculative element insofar as it serves the point that the author wants to make. It ends up feeling kind of tacked-on, empty. The idea of a third-party contractor that sucks up elements of dreams, and with them memories, and then repackages that dream-stuff into nightmares to be sold to the highest bidder as mercenaries is really original and neat, but the book doesn't actually deal with what that might look like on anything more than the most abstract level. It's not interested in it. But as a reader, I am! It kind of gets away with this by making Abernathy an incurious dope who doesn't want to know how the company works, but after a while that wasn't enough for me; it really felt not like a fully fleshed-out system that Abernathy just didn't know about, but like a giant black hole with occasional details thrust in for Abernathy to bonk against. There's also a whole thing where Abernathy has to die, like everyone who engages with this system dies eventually, and I didn't really get that either. Maybe I just missed something. But it felt like this element was just there to underline the book's thesis that Capitalism Kills, which, sure, but I would have liked a lot more concreteness than that, on a narrative level. And I hated the very end of the book, like the last half-page of the book.
So that kicks it down to three stars, for me, despite the fact that I really did enjoy reading it.
Otherwise: Great title, weird cover.
I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.