In Owens’ rollicking debut novel, an indecisive millennial wallows in “voluntary unemployment,” trying the patience of everyone around her.
When Claire Flannery decides to leave her job in “creative communications” to find a career she’s more passionate about, she first has to figure out where her passion actually lies. Her live-in boyfriend, Luke, happens to be a brain surgeon–in-training, and Claire envies his clear-cut path to success. In the meantime, all her friends have climbed London’s corporate ladder, leaving Claire to wonder where she fits in her social circle. Brash but observant, Claire has a tendency to speak without thinking, which lands her in hot water with her mother. Without the emotional support of her parents, Claire begins an inevitable downward spiral, drowning her sorrows in gallons of wine, self-pity, and bad decisions. Thankfully, Owens uses quick, sharp vignettes to move us through Claire’s London, so we’re never asked to wallow with her main character for too long. These sketches have the added benefit of giving us snapshots of Claire’s interior struggle. With trademark 20-something selfishness, Claire has the ability to turn even a toothbrush cup on the sink or a weed growing out of a foundation into a metaphor about her failed life. To her credit, Owens deploys a deft sense of humor to help us laugh at the incongruities of contemporary upper-middle-class crisis. In Owens’ hands, even Claire’s long-overdue visit to a dentist results in a misunderstanding that sums up the shame, absurdity, and hopefulness of the overskilled, underemployed worker. Since Claire already has Luke, Owens frees her character from the constraints of the marriage plot haunting similar rom-com titles like Bridget Jones’s Diary. Rather than, “Reader, I married him,” we get the sense Claire might wind up happily dating a new career, if only she can decide on one.
While her privilege never quite catches up with her, this hapless protagonist will leave younger readers laughing—and wincing—in recognition.