A woman known only as A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C, who wants her to join him on a reality dating show. A eats mostly popsicles and oranges, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials — particularly the recurring cartoon escapades of Kandy Kat, the mascot for an entirely chemical dessert — and models herself on an impossible standard of beauty. She fixates on the fifteen minutes of fame a local celebrity named Michael has earned after buying up a Wally’s Supermarket’s entire, and increasingly ample, supply of veal. Meanwhile, B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who in turn hungers for something to give meaning to her life, something aside from C’s pornography addiction. Maybe something like what’s gotten into her neighbors across the street, the family who’s begun ghosting themselves beneath white sheets with holes cut for eyes…
Alexandra Kleeman is an author from New York, and has previously been published in The Guardian, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, is her first novel, and it’s an interesting and intriguing read – combining twisting tendrils of plot with a fiercely sharp look at the world of consumerism and media that her characters inhabit. This is no straightforward tale though – the lack of names can make the reader feel somewhat detached from the main characters, especially initially, and whilst Kleeman does build relationships well, it’s something that I feel may alienate some readers. The characters inhabit an exaggerated world, similar to our own but with consumerism heightened and rampant, which allows Kleeman to run riot with satirical comment in some amazingly clever sentences that really stand out.
As the pages go by, the plot gets stranger and stranger – but Kleeman never ventures too far into the absurd, instead building a world that feels scarily like a close future of the one we currently inhabit, with small mentions of products and sales techniques simultaneously amusing and chilling the reader with their probability. It’s a rather hard book to categorise – thriller is perhaps too strong a word for a plot that often becomes distracted by the world in which it inhabits, science fiction brings to mind images of space and distant futures which certainly doesn’t apply here. It’s a book about women by a woman, yes, but I certainly wouldn’t categorise this as Women’s Fiction at all – it’s a book that as many people as possible should try, even if they don’t enjoy it!
This isn’t a book for everyone – I have to state that, as I think a lot of people will dislike Kleeman’s style, and the fact that parts of the book read rather more like a cautionary tale than a straightforward novel. I have to admit that the complexity of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine means it’s one I’m going to have to read again – at times I was too distracted by the world building to concentrate on the characters and plot, and vice versa. There’s no doubt that Kleeman is a superb talent though, and this is one of the most original debuts I’ve read in years – complex, brave, vibrant, and brought to life with huge skill and intelligence. I’ve marked it as 4 out of 5 stars now, but this is a book that will mean something different to absolutely everyone who gives it a read. Some may love it, some may hate it, and some may be indifferent…