Alexandra Kleeman learned a very important lesson when she was in the early stages of writing her debut novel, You Too Can Have a Body like Mine (Harper, Aug.): back up your work. She wrote the first chapter, in the summer of 2009, in a notebook that she subsequently lost on a beach. “It was hard to get myself to start again after that,” she says, laughing.
Kleeman resumed work on the book two years later, while pursuing an M.F.A. at Columbia University, far from any manuscript-eating beaches. It was there, she says, that she found the proper vehicle for a story she’d “wanted to write for years.”
The resulting novel, which Kleeman completed and sold to Harper in the summer of 2014, centers on a trio of young adults (names: A, B, and C) who are in various degrees of thralldom to commercial culture in all its sordid manifestations, from reality television and the health-food industry to pornography and corporatized religion.
The story, set in an unnamed city, has a fable-like quality, which makes sense, given what Kleeman calls her “reader DNA.” Among her biggest sources of inspiration are Japanese novels, such as those by Haruki Murakami and Kobo Abe, in which, Kleeman says, “there’s always an ‘I’ telling you the story, but the ‘I’ is always vulnerable. It’s in danger of losing itself.”
Claudia Ballard, Kleeman’s agent, says Kleeman’s writing is “really cerebral and well formed,” but that it also has a “real emotional core.”
Calvert Morgan, an executive editor at Harper who worked on the book, adds that while the novel “deals with all the surfaces in consumer culture, it also strips away that sense that it’s just a layering of trivialities.” He found one “blackly realistic” line, which appears near the end of the book, particularly relatable: “Living wasn’t a matter of right or wrong or ethics or self-expression. There was no better way to live, or worse. It was all terrible, and you had to do it constantly.” Morgan says:“I feel like that about once a week.”