Wreck and Order

Hannah Tennant-Moore. Random/Hogarth, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-90326-1
In Tennant-Moore’s sharp, confident debut novel, Elsie, a bright young woman in her 20s who is equal parts self-assured and self-destructive, isn’t afraid to name her feelings: “lust, rage, lust, rage.” But she’s at a loss for how to reconcile herself with the injustice in the world and “just be a decent person.” Encouraged by her indulgent father, who, thanks to inheriting a small fortune, floats her money when she needs it, she skips college for a life made on her own terms, travelling around the world: to Paris where she’s “overcome by [her] own worthlessness” at not being able to communicate and sublimates it by attempting to translate an out-of-print book about stray cats; to California, where she can’t escape a destructive attraction to Jared, a small-time drug dealer; and New York City, where her career ambitions give way to a relationship with Brian, who is stable and successful—but ultimately square (not to mention a selfish lover)—and quick to break off their short-lived engagement. Seeking a change in her life, Elsie backpacks around Sri Lanka, but Tennant-Moore is far too sophisticated and nuanced a writer to allow Elsie to be miraculously healed by the mysterious East. Instead, Tennant-Moore provides no easy answers, deftly illustrating Elsie’s inner monologue as she tries to face up to herself and the people around her. The book has a broad appeal, and many young women will keep it stacked on their bookshelf next to Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick and cart it with them like a talisman through the various bad apartments of their 20s. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/23/2015
Release date: 02/09/2016
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