Monday, February 28, 2011

Everything Is Going to Be Great: Too bad the book wasn't...

Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand TourEverything Is Going to Be Great,
by Rachel Shukert

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After graduating from college, Rachel Shukert gets an unpaid, unrewarding "job" as an actor in a play, and after a run in New York, the play is staged in Vienna, Austria, and Zurich, Switzerland. After that, she journeys to Amsterdam, where much of the action takes place.

Shukert, a Jewish girl from Omaha, Nebraska, drinks heavily, smokes some, sleeps around, and generally parties her way indiscriminately through Europe. Halfway through this book, I questioned myself: why am I still reading this book? Silly me. I kept thinking it was going to get better.

Perhaps part of the problem is that it was supposed to be funny, and I've realized that I am not easily amused. (Take, for example, my feelings about David Sedaris.) I guess I don't find drinking until you end up in the hospital with broken bones...or sleeping with a Viennese man old enough to be your father and whose ancestors' whereabouts during the war you be amusing. 

Upon visiting the Anne Frank museum with her parents in tow, Schukert observes: "Say what you will about the horrors of the concentration camps, they might at least present some interesting networking opportunities. But to be trapped for years in five rooms with your family was a torment I could scarcely fathom." Interesting networking opportunities? I do not understand how Shukert, as a Jewish woman, can even joke about something like that.

I did learn some new information in the book: that of the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, which is akin to Santa Claus. What is most startling about this tradition is that Sinterklaas is accompanied by the character of "Zwarte Piet," a man in blackface who is Sinterklaas' "servant." Yes, blackface. See below. In recent years, this racist tradition has been debated in Holland and elsewhere, but it still continues. Many Dutch people insist that there's nothing wrong with this tradition. In fact, speaking of David Sedaris, he wrote about this oddity in Esquire.

Zwarte Pieten in Holland
Schukert has an ill-fated, pointless affair with an American, Pete (no relation to Zwarte Piet), who was living with his long-term girlfriend. Everyone around her--certainly the reader--could see that the relationship was worthless and he was an asshole. When Pete breaks up with her (repeatedly), she enters into a deep depression. That's when I knew I should have given up on this book long ago. I just didn't care, and I didn't really like this person. Maybe I would like her now, years later, assuming that she's grown up a little. Who knows?

She ultimately meets the man she ends up marrying in Amsterdam--he's a Jewish South African named Ben. About the only thing I could relate to in the book was at the end, when she wrote about how "showing up in Omaha while involved in a marriage-track relationship with a well-mannered, gainfully employed, age-appropriate coreligionist who is on paper virtually identical to whomever they would have arranged for you to marry a hundred years ago in the shtetl will...dispel any doubts your parents may still harbor about the viability of your future." She calls her grandmother to wish her happy birthday and after first throwing her off the trail by saying her new boyfriend is African (at which her grandma panics), then she informs her that her new boyfriend's name is Abramowitz...and her grandma screams.

I have a great relationship with my parents (especially compared to Scukert's, although I suspect some of what she was writing was purely for laughs), so it's not completely the same. But I do have to admit that it's gratifying to end up marrying someone whom your parents actually like and approve of!

Conclusion: not my cup of tea. I couldn't care about this woman or the way she was wasting her youth away. Lovers of David Sedaris, however, might find it amusing.

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