Review: If You Were Here — Jen Lancaster

Read: 35
To Go: 65

Book List:
31. Solaris — Stanislaw Lem
32. The Waste Land, Prufrock, and Other Poems — T.S. Eliot
33. The Singles — Meredith Goldstein
34. The Notebook — Nicholas Sparks
35. If You Were Here — Jen Lancaster


Mia has no doubt that she and her husband, Mac, can win a war of spray-painted words with the young thug who keeps tagging their Chicago home. After all, they’re gainfully employed, college-educated urbanites. But as the situation comes to a head, they have to admit the charm of living in the city has worn off, and so they decide to move to the suburbs that John Hughes movies made famous.

With visions of inground pools and huge backyards, Mia and Mac embark wide-eyed on an odyssey of open houses and do what millions of others do in their situation — they settle. Their very own money pit will force them to use not only the little that they’ve learned watching home-improvement television shows, but their life savings as well. In the end, their fixer-upper will test the very foundation of their marriage, which they can only hope is stronger than the foundation of their new home.

I have lots to say about my 35th book. None of it is good.

I’ll just preface this by saying that I appreciate a funny novel as much as the next girl. I like humour, and I like it in my books. But there’s a time when it goes too far, and the book has no substance other than joke after joke after failed joke. If You Were Here went too far. By the second page it had crossed the line from funny to tangential rambling.

I honestly, for the duration of the book, could not tell if it was an actual parody novel or if it was just trying way too hard. Every situation was so far beyond realistic that I started to question whether Jen Lancaster was mocking the genre of chick lit (her frequent stabs at Stephenie Meyer, coming from a protagonist who couldn’t be bothered to research Amish people for the premise of her own teen novels, seemed very parody-like), or if this was actually supposed to be genuinely humorous. For the most part, going off on a tangent for two straight pages with constant, unsubtle pop culture referencing is not funny.

What really got me was the fact that this book had footnotes. You read that correctly. FOOTNOTES. In a fiction novel. To add more jokes (which, predictably, fell flat) to a novel that was already bursting at the seams with them. Or to elaborate on jokes, or explain the in-text referencing. It was a blatant lack of trust in the reader to understand the humour in the allusions — and an obvious unwillingness to part with any material whatsoever. Couldn’t fit it in the paragraph? Stick it in a footnote. (Some footnotes, by the way, were one word long. Surely that could have fit in the body of the text.) But what horrified me down to my very core was when Lancaster broke the fourth wall in a footnote to mention that she makes a Mean Girls reference in every one of her books. This is both unnecessary and really, really awful: everyone gets a Mean Girls reference, and I mean that literally. You don’t need to point it out. Plus, if you’re breaking the fourth wall to justify your joke to your reader, that’s just…wow. No.

In case anyone was wondering, footnotes in fiction are a terrible idea.

The only redeemable thing about If You Were Here was Babcia, Mia’s Polish grandmother. Although she, too, was a total exaggeration, the scenes with her in them were the only ones that got a genuine laugh out of me.

This book is in desperate need of a trimming down (get rid of the footnotes, and about half of the main text, because it really, really dragged), and an injection of…I don’t know? Paragraphs that aren’t trying too hard?

Next book: Something quality.

– Kelsey

(PS: Thanks to my mysterious friend whose name will not be mentioned for stealing this book for me, as well as four others, from his office.)


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