You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat [in Booklist]
The “demarcation” begins over a wardrobe malfunction: a 12-year-old girl, improperly, according to the local men, dressed in shorts, arrives at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with her mother and uncle. Exchanging the forbidden shorts for her uncle’s “baggy trousers” gives her a sense of freedom: “Ambiguity was an unsettling yet exhilarating space.” The brief respite, however, engenders separation “from my mother and her lineage” that in adulthood would “send [her] on a misguided and self-destructive quest for love.”
A disastrous first relationship with her college roommate begins a pattern of imploding affairs with far too many partners, but it’s the possibility that she’s gay that nearly destroys her intolerant mother. She drifts through cafés and DJ-ing, is plagued with anorexia and love addiction, leaves NYC for a Midwest MFA, and eventually returns to Brooklyn.
In the tedious wake of self-destruction, at least she recognizes her self-absorption: “I’m aware I can be exhausting – ‘you exist too much,’ my mother often told me.” Debuting novelist Zaina Arafat’s damaged cast might resonate with untethered millennials, but utmost patience is a must.