"The New Me" by Halle Butler. TNS
“Jillian” author Halle Butler, a Granta best young American novelist, offers a darkly comic view of contemporary life in the highly readable “The New Me,” about a Chicago temp with a good education and a bad attitude.
Millie has two successful, indulgent parents and no student loans. Yet she is “flailing, filled with puke, thinking about death and feeling angry all the time.” At age 30, she hasn’t made the “temp to perm” transition, which might have something to do with arriving late, leaving early and not completing her work.
She’s filled with contempt for her new colleagues at a designer furniture showroom — and pretty much everyone else.
She misses her ex-boyfriend James, even as she realizes she was “too mean and too self-centered.” Her only friend is the equally self-absorbed Sarah, who’s jealous of slovenly Millie’s financial support and joins her in drinking too much.
Her downstairs neighbor Kim recognizes the smell coming from Millie’s apartment from her “pseudo-freegan co-op” undergrad days at Michigan State.
Presented as a counterpoint, coupled Kim is glad to be free of “vulgar and desperate ways of living justified by the false pretense of nonconformity as a sign of intelligence and authenticity.” Millie may recognize something is wrong, but she’s unable or unwilling to make the slightest changes, a millennial stereotype taken to the extreme.
Butler presents a vivid portrait of her pitiful yet pitiless protagonist. It’s hard to know what Millie needs most: medication, a hug or a restraining order.
Tribune News Service
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