This second installment of a two-volume novel charts the everyday lives of the members of a Missouri-based family and its acquaintances.
The first volume of Dieker’s (The Biographies of Ordinary People: Vol. 1, 2017) unusual work opens in 1989, introducing Jack and Rosemary Gruber and their three young girls, Meredith, Natalie, and Jackie. This sequel picks up with Jack and Rosemary in 2004—their girls have grown, and the family faces the trials, tribulations, and trends of the new millennium. Meredith, the eldest of the Gruber sisters and the novel’s most engaging character, has just graduated from college and is still determined to become a writer. When her internship at a Minneapolis theater company falls through, she is forced to take a position in telemarketing. The tale follows her occasionally precarious attempts to stake her claim in life, her jobs, her dates, and her dream to write professionally. A criticism of the first volume was that nothing much happens outside of daily rituals. The same can be said here; the characters send emails, surf the internet, load the dishwasher, and pour coffee—all rather mundane. Jack teaches; Rosemary still works at the bank. But while this sequel continues to meditate on the humdrum, it is far from boring. Subtle changes, from struggling with dial-up internet access and wondering “what’s a blog?” to using online video chat and emojis, cleverly create the overarching sense of time passing, the incremental ticking of the clock in other people’s lives. Dieker’s writing is remarkably intuitive and descriptive, understanding and detailing subtle traits of human nature: “Meredith sighed, the little grunt of air out of her nose that Jackie had been listening to almost her whole life.” As in Volume 1, there is a lack of narrative drive here, which may deter some readers. In many respects, this approach feels intentional and remains faithful to the pattern of day-to-day existence, which does not always yield a story. This is a thoughtfully conceived book that is mindful not only of technological progressions, but also the cyclical nature of life—ending on Meredith’s 35th birthday, the age of her mother at the opening of the first volume.
A shrewdly unique portrait of everyday America.