Synopses & Reviews
College student Bec is adrift. Self-conscious and increasingly uncertain about her long-term plans, she's studying a major that no longer interests her and is caught up in a bewildering affair with a married professor. In an impulsive attempt to redeem herself, she answers a want ad seeking a caregiver.
What she finds is a wealthy, cultivated woman in her midthirties. Once an advertising executive, accomplished chef, and skilled decorator, Kate is now in the advanced stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). She and her husband, Evan, handle their situation with mordant humor, careful planning, and a lot of determination. Yet while Bec perceives the couple as charmingly frank and good-humored, there are strains beneath the surface of their relationship.
Bec is soon a vital part of her employer's household, and their increasing closeness transforms both women's lives. Bec performs every task, from the most administrative to the most intimate, and she translates Kate's speech for strangers, friends, and even family. Sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes reluctantly, Bec moves further and further into Kate's world, surprised by her own increasing dedication and ease. But how closely can Bec intertwine her own life with Kate's?
The two confront their obstacles unsentimentally, with dark humor and
unflinching candor, as their relationship is slowly stripped of pretense. Honesty becomes their touchstone: They find humor in the most devastating moments, but they know there are no silver linings. With crystal clarity, debut author Michelle Wildgen has crafted a deeply affecting novel about the singular relationship between two women, balancing humor and regret, sensuality and necessity, and testing the outer limits of friendship.
"Wildgen writes with a fresh, appealing honesty and has done a marvelous job of capturing that youthful moment in our lives when we are like sponges ready to soak up someone else's character, taste, and charm, borrowed elements from which we hope to concoct an authentic, individual self." Francine Prose in People Magazine, Critics Choice, four stars
"It sounds like a recipe for disaster; a book about a college student who signs on as caregiver to a woman ravaged by ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). But You're Not You (St. Martin's), by the astonishingly gifted debut novelist Michelle Wildgen, is a complex and satisfying dish: a story of intimate strangers and their impact on each other's lives.A smidgen of self-awareness, served warm." Cathleen Medwick, O Magazine
"Michelle Wildgen's novel You Are Not You is so skillfully rendered that it's hard to believe it is a first novel. The character of Bec, a twentysomething who has a habit of falling into things jobs, love affairs is funny, completely unsentimental, and really great for a reader to hang around with. Her worldview and how it changes when she goes to work for Kate, a refined woman in her thirties, is riveting. I simply couldn't put this book down." Whitney Otto, author of How to Make an American Quilt
"What an enjoyable and deeply satisfying novel. In You're Not You, Michelle Wildgen manages to capture, in some extraordinary way, what it's like to be a fairly ordinary college student, waiting for one's life to begin. Bec is a wonderfully complex heroine, and the nuances of her relations with the remarkable Kate are both vivid and suspenseful. This is an exhilarating debut." Margot Livesey, author of Banishing Verona
"Michelle Wildgen writes with a lush, fierce clarity about the most private and complex of matters: the relationship between identity and intimacy, the body's pleasures and profound betrayals, the sharp impact of loss, and the gifts of deep attachment. You're Not You is startling and smart, a wise, beautiful novel." Nancy Reisman, author of The First Desire
About the Author
Michelle Wildgen is a senior editor at the literary quarterly Tin House. She earned an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence and has received a scholarship to Bread Loaf and a residency at Hall Farm Center for Arts and Education in Vermont. Her work has appeared in venues including Best New American Voices 2004, Best Food Writing 2004, StoryQuarterly, and TriQuarterly. The story on which this novel is based appeared in Prairie Schooner, where it won the 2004 Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing.