The New Me by Halle Butler

Song Pairing: “i need to be alone” by girl in red Listen Here / 2019 HELLO YELLOW REVIEWS PLAYLIST (Spotify) – Listen Here / 2019 HELLO YELLOW REVIEWS Playlist (Apple)

The plot of Halle Butler’s The New Me is decidedly simple. Millie is a 30 year old temp working as a receptionist’s assistant at a fashion agency downtown. She’s living in a nest of old clothes,Top Ramen and depressive body odor. She wants to be the kind of person who listens to music as she cooks, but instead she watches reruns of Forensic Files because the familiarity feels safe. Her best friend is a self-centered acquaintance who serves as a stand-in for actual intimacy.

“No one wants to do what I want to do, and I’m so permissive, so ‘Oh, okay!’ all the time, so ‘Tell me about your day’ all the time, that time after time I end up doing things I don’t want to do, acting the therapist…pushing my limits and biting my tongue until the inevitable happens and I snap and say something mean. But I don’t need to feel this way. I want to be happy, and I want to nurture my friendships, and I want to be happy to see Sarah, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m happy!”

Halle Butler, The New Me

Her parents emanate pity and disappointment at Millie’s various highs and lows. Thoughts of her ex boyfriend still bring sudden fits of rage as she dwells on her insecurities and anxieties. At 30, I relate to Millie on a molecular level.

“You can’t ask somebody to help you without letting them know you’re different than advertised, that you’ve been thinking and feeling strange things this whole time. That you’re uglier, weaker, more annoying, more basic, less interesting than promised. Without letting on that your feelings are easily hurt, and that you are boring, just like everyone else.”

Halle Butler, The New Me

But once Millie’s temp job starts to become more permanent, she begins the upswing of planning a less temporary life for herself. She’s going to clean, clean, clean! Make lists! Buy those real groceries from Whole Foods, wake up early and go on three-mile runs, purchase professional clothes and get a haircut. She’ll have real friends again, maybe meet somebody new, be nicer to her mother on the phone.

“The kitchen is the heart of the home, no one has touched my body in more than a year, and I have a beautiful living space.”

Halle Butler, The New Me

It’s hard to say that one work of literary fiction can be the ultimate in defining a generation, but this one is a gold medalist. Right next to Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (reviewed here), Claire Louise-Bennett’s Pond (reviewed here), and Melissa Broder’s The Pisces (reviewed here, wow I have a type), The New Me reigns as another in a hopefully long line of painfully perfect odes to the insecure, the apathetic, the depressed, and the uninspired. When the meaninglessness of our reality provides that panic-inducing existential crises, turn to these novels for a feeling of kinship and understanding.

“No one thought about the scope of history that would evade them, the sea of identical people who would replace them as time made its waves back and forth, back and forth, seemingly linear, deceptive, stationary and changing all at once.”

Halle Butler, The New Me

Don’t mind me while I quote this Dorothy Parker poem ad nauseam as the thesis to everything. The New Me can sit on the same shelf.

“There’s little in taking or giving
There’s little in water or wine
This living, this living , this living
was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
the gain of the one at the top
for art is a form of catharsis
and love is a permanent flop
and work is the province of cattle
and rest’s for a clam in a shell
so I’m thinking of throwing the battle
would you kindly direct me to hell?”

Dorothy Parker

Big thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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