Everything is Going to be Great by Rachel Shukert – Book Review

Everything is Going to be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour by Rachel Shukert
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

A proponent of the sex, drugs, and theater lifestyle, Rachel Shukert is thrilled when she gets a part in the play of a very prestigious director, even if she isn’t getting paid and has to wear a hat that looks like poo. Even better, the play’s run in New York is so successful that they mount a European tour. In Vienna, Rachel attempts to work around casual but virulent antisemitism and has an affair with an older man, whose father may or may not have been a Nazi. When the show’s run ends, Rachel can’t bear to return to New York, so moves to Amsterdam to crash in the apartment of her Dutch friend and his partner, and eventually shocks and offends nearly everyone she knows by dating a man with a long-term, live-in girlfriend.

“Everything is Going to be Great” is not for the easily offended. Although she is never particularly graphic – which I appreciated, Shukert is not the least bit shy about her sundry sexual exploits, nor about drinking binges, drugs, etc. This sort of narrative voice is extremely hit or miss with me. Quite often, it seems that the author is simply engaging in one final act of exhibitionism, and including everything they can remember that might be seen as shocking simply for the sake of being shocking.

This is not at all the vibe I got from Shukert. Instead of being shocking for shocking’s sake, she instead showed the admirable ability to poke fun at herself on the sly. While reading “Everything is Going to be Great” I could hear the sarcastic ‘can you believe this’ dripping across the page, headshakes of disbelief and all. At the same time, though, she told her story without the moralizing of hindsight, letting her actions speak for themselves and letting the reader experience them alongside her.

The style in “Everything is Going to be Great” is very reminisicent of David Sedaris, without seeming derivative. Actually, I think if Sedaris was a straight, Jewish woman he might actually be Rachel Shukert. Their senses of humor are very similar, and “Everything is Going to be Great” reminded me very much of Sedaris’s essays about living and traveling abroad. Even the level of possible offensiveness is roughly similar. The two main differences between Sedaris and Shukert for me are that I can only listen to audios of David Sedaris’s work – I don’t find that his humor translates well for me at all into the written word, but I did not encounter this problem at all while reading “Everything is Going to be Great” – and that Sedaris writes in essays, while Shukert’s work was a more cohesive long form memoir.

If you enjoy David Sedaris, it would definitely be worth your while to pick up “Everything is Going to be Great.” Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher at BEA.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

A Parisienne in Chicago by Madame Leon Grandin – Book Review

A Parisienne in Chicago: Impressions of the World’s Columbian Exposition by Madame Leon Grandin, translated by Mary Beth Raycraft

In July of 1892, Madame Leon Grandin and her husband boarded a ship in Le Havre heading for New York. They stayed for six weeks with relatives in New York, then headed across the country to Chicago, where her husband would be working on the Columbian Fountain project for the 1893 World’s Fair. “A Pariesienne in Chicago” is Madame Leon Grandin’s travelogue of her time in America, focusing extensively on social customs and societal norms in the United States and in Chicago in particular.

As I was reading Madame Leon Grandin’s account of her time in Chicago in 1892 and 1893, the quote about the past being a foreign country was continually running through my head. Madame Grandin traveled from Paris to the place that I live, but the Chicago of 120 years ago is nearly as foreign to me as it was to her, even discounting the changes in technology between then and now. The things that really got to me don’t seem like big things, but they were so unexpected I was just shocked, things like Thanksgiving being a religious holiday where people headed to church in the morning instead of watching parades and football.

Being as this was a translation of a 19th century travelogue focusing on social practices in Chicago, I was amazed at how completely engaging “A Parisienne in Chicago” was. I literally did not want to put it down because Madame Grandin’s voice was so engaging. I attribute this both to Grandin’s writing style (which included lots of exclamation points!) and to Mary Beth Raycraft’s skillful translation. I do think it is important to note that, the subtitle not withstanding,  only a very small portion of the book actually deals directly with the World’s Fair, so if that’s your main impetus for picking this book up you may be disappointed. That being said, I think this was much more interesting for the social history it highlighted than it would have been if it were just Grandin’s impressions of the World’s Fair.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher for this blog tour.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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