Worry by Alexandra Tanner: book review

Worry by Alexandra Tanner 

Overview: Jules and Poppy are not the kind of sisters that are best friends, but they are inextricably linked as the only two people who understand their messy family and are thus deeply bonded to one another. While Jules has managed to survive for almost a decade in Brooklyn doing an MFA and then working various at-home writing jobs, Poppy has never found her footing out in the world as she battles severe anxiety. When Poppy shows up on Jules's doorstep, they have to figure out how to navigate life with each other even when neither are sure that's what they really want. Overall: 3.5

Characters: 3 You better like Poppy and Jules if you're going to enjoy this book because they're all you got. This is a very interior book, and the two sisters are the only characters that really have much dimension. Everyone outside their pair is a characteture that exists to make a point more than truly illustrate a person. Jules and Poppy both battle anxiety in different ways and also have clear quirks in how they approach the world that often manifest in different ways. Poppy struggles with taking care of herself but thrives in work environments. Jules is good at fending for herself, but she hates working and has little drive even for her personal writing projects. 

They both create sort of a composite about being a young woman in America facing what you quickly realize is the end of the world as the book concludes in December of 2019 right before life turned upside down. In this way, and the snarky commentary on the bleakness of society, this novel reminded me of Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter, but Cassie from Ripe still has a certain full-bodied depth that never comes through in Poppy and Jules. 

They are best as characters together, though. Tanner does a great job of rendering the complexity of sibling relationships when you're both not close and also inseparable. I particularly think that Tanner captures the lack of synchronicity in the older sibling perspective well. Jules would do anything to make sure Poppy is okay. She sees herself as Poppy's protector. But she also lashes out and says or does random mean things that she has to try to take back. There's something about punching down on her younger sibling that feels almost preprogrammed as her default nature that she has to fight. She tries to brush it away as inconsequential, but Poppy knows that some things can't be taken back. Sibling relationships are so complex and nuanced, especially when they're not exceptionally great, and Worry captures that with a more unflinching approach than post.

Plot: 3 More than a book, this is just a collection of moments shared between two sisters that sort of get along. It never really goes anywhere, and while it progresses linearly through time, it feels like there are massive jumps. This isn't a book concerned with connective tissue or takeaways you don't choose to find them yourself. There are details and story elements that are fed throughout that seem like they would be consequential, but I'll go ahead and burst your bubble now, there's no greater story these will amount to. There's an absurdity to the story, but at the same time, everything is also extremely what you see is what you get. It's strange to read a book that never ultimately decides to go anywhere. 

Despite all this, each scene itself has quite a bit of movement, and I read the book quickly. I wanted to see what would happen from scene to scene, and I'd often read later into the night than I intended. There is something propulsive in the moment that made the book feel worth reading. I also developed an acute sense of dread as I realized how quickly Jules and Poppy were moving through the months of 2019. I knew that whatever hurdles they cleared, COVID was just around the corner to reorder their entire conception of the world. I almost didn't want to keep going I was so worried for them. But, and I guess this is a mild spoiler, the book stops before we get there with a completely random and inconsequential scene months before everything went haywire. It did make me wonder if Tanner had chosen 2019 as a way to write about modern times and problems while dodging COVID or if it was a way to leverage what the reader knows by default to add layers to the novel. 

Also, I do want to note a trigger warning for an animal that is injured/animal abuse, and its described quite graphically for no reason. The scene really came out of nowhere, so it seems worth a heads up. I honestly wouldn't have been too phased by this warning, but I can't get the scene out of my head, and I'd really like to. Honestly, if you want to read the book, quit reading after the sisters exchange presents in the Hamptons and call it a day. There is no real ending, and stopping there will give you a better one than what the rest of us had to read.

Writing: 4 Working in Worry's favor is that it's a quick read. It's utterly consumable, written more in page broken scenes than chapters that give the reader a dopamine hit of tangibly progressing through the book quite often. There's quick dialogue and a lighthearted sense of doom and some truly funny moments. There are also plenty of misses, but again, the pacing is so quick it's easy to move through. My issue with the writing goes back to what I was saying about the plot. The novel feels quite thin because while we're moving forward, we're never heading to a destination. Eventually, you realize that Jules's obsession with the mommy bloggers isn't going anywhere. The choices that are made don't lock into one another. Eventually the book just ends. I'm all for an ambiguous ending, but there has to be some kind of connection built within the novel itself to create some satisfaction. The character has to be internally changed. There's hints of this but not enough to constitute a satisfying novel, even a quiet one. This just left me feeling like the stream of consciousness eventually ran out, and that's where the book stops.

Worry falls squarely into the "trendy internet informed 20-something takedown of culture" type literary fiction, and I've read a ton of these. I love them, when done well. I typically relate to them as their most squarely intended audience. To me, Worry is not among the very best of the trend and therefore feels a bit like it's trying too hard to do something that's gone a bit stale without particularly innovating on it. 

More In This Vibe:

Ripe review

Happy Hour review

Green Dot review

Piglet review

Death Valley review


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