‘Very Cold People’ review by Sarah Manjusu – Advanced Lesson in Unease | imaginary

WI’m finished People are so coldI felt my whole body unstable. In the process of reading this spooky tale of coming of age, I seem to have trapped a nerve in my shoulder – it’s so tense. It’s a novel in which nothing much happens for about 100 pages but the little things – Barbie dolls, Girl Scout badges, bubble gum, nail polish, a knitted scarf – matter, and the little cuteness feels overwhelming. When a friend of the candy leaned into the narrator’s hand, Ruthie, she said, “I couldn’t believe how much she was giving me. Just giving it to me, when she could have eaten it herself.” Any act of generosity feels too good to be true.

The author of this frightening tale is the first novelist Sarah Manjusu, 48, who for 20 years tried to capture the all-white icy Massachusetts culture during her childhood ’80s in fairy tales, before finally hitting the spare ellipsoid she uses here. The fictional town of Witsfield, once home to New England’s wealthiest families, has emptied over the years yet its residents, with their Mayflower ancestors, are still obsessed with social class. It is a place of “emotional poverty,” said Mangusu, a place where “in all the coldness and silence, [it] It is perfectly set up to protect aggressors.”

Although the abuse is not explicitly mentioned until the later chapters, the novel is filled with vows from the first page. “My parents were liars,” Ruthie says in the opening paragraph, claiming that they tried to hide their Jewish and Italian heritage from their neighbours. Yet we know, from the tightly coiled rage of those first sentences, that there must be more. Unfold like a darker version of Roald Dahl Matilda – only recounted at ice speed, with no Miss Honey to save.

Ruthie’s father is a cash-strapped accountant and her mother is a depressed homemaker. For most of her childhood, the family was on the brink of poverty, dependent on trips to the landfill for school supplies. But her narcissistic mother has delusions of grandeur. Having brought a catalog of discarded wristwatches, she ironed them and laid them perverted on the coffee table “as if someone had read it and carelessly scraped it.”

Only child Ruthie carefully catalogs (mercilessly, you might say) everything she sees and hears, from her mother’s lumpy body in a sparkly nightgown to awkward dinner parties at the homes of her richer school friends. But she does not necessarily understand what she is witnessing.

For most of the novel, the story of abuse is in its omissions, what is not told. In a vignette, Ruthie recalls, “We weren’t young anymore, but B’s dad still let her sit on his lap like a kid and pretend to drive his sports car. When he was driving, he steered with only his thumbs, to show us he could.” Only years later did Ruthie realize that all the attention she and her adult male friends received was “mixed sex”. Disturbing encounters with intrusive parents, playful uncles, and corrupt gym teachers are dismissed as rare distractions, helping to maintain a silence about the abuse.

Mangozu was trained as a poet but drew attention due to her non-fiction autobiographical story. her 2017 book, 300 arguments, was a collection of very short aphorisms about desire, writing, and relationships. Before that, I posted continuity (2015), reflect on the extensive memoir she has kept for 25 years. She swore she would never write a novel, partly because she couldn’t imagine being able to create characters or dialogue, and partly because she stuck to the old idea that a novel had to say something social and philosophical. It can’t just be one girl’s story.

Fragmented, stream consciousness imagination Sheila even And Jenny Oville It obviously helped change the landscape for a writer as volatile as Manguso. like their stories, People are so cold It consists of writing units that are sometimes very short, and feel like wisps of reflection. Members Gwendolyn Riley And Catherine Lacey Unconventional stories about dysfunction in family and society are also likely to appreciate Mangozu’s meticulously observed prose.

But People are so cold So unlike anything else I’ve read, it makes comparing it to other works of fiction a bit ridiculous. We often talk about writers getting their characters skinned, but Mangozu has a forensic interest in hair follicles, rashes, colds, and infected wounds. By writing about these girls’ relationships with their bodies, she captures the effects of generational trauma and shame. It’s a lecture in unease. I must admit I was relieved when the novel ended but she was so clever and so quirky and so unique that I doubt she’ll stay with me for very long.

People are so cold By Sarah Manguso posted by Picador (£14.99). to support guardian And Foreman Request your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply