Books

Book cover: a person’s body submerged underwater.

Nadine J. Cohen
Everyone and Everything

Nadine J. Cohen’s debut novel, Everyone and Everything, brings together the drama of a young woman’s breakdown with comedy reminiscent of Woody Allen or Nora Ephron. Anxiety, for instance, “arrived without warning and then wouldn’t leave. Like the Kardashians.” Cohen manages the balancing act of her dramedy through the appealing cipher of her first-person female narrator, Yael Silver, who is neurotic and genuinely tested by life, but also spirited and well-dressed.

She is never edgy. Think Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City or Ally McBeal, more than Hannah Horvath of Girls or Fleabag. The ’90s are something of a touchstone for Yael, who is defined in the novel by her love of the era’s films and television shows: Dawson’s Creek, Pretty Woman. She also has a cat called Julia Louis-Dreyfus (of Seinfeld).

Another quality that defines Yael is her left-wing politics. The man with whom Yael falls in love before her breakdown – and who is implicated in it – is similarly defined in terms of the books he reads: first Shantaram and then – more impressively in Yael’s view – a Gough Whitlam biography. She engages in political debate with her psychoanalyst, which leaves her wondering if she needs “therapy or a seat in the upper house”.

Her concerns about sweatshops and the environment don’t stop her admiring the designer attire of her stylish psychoanalyst or, indeed, engaging in her own mindless consumerism. Similarly, while she might spoil dinners by ranting about the royal family, the “icon” Diana and her son Harry are exempt from criticism. When it comes to dramedy, such contradictions might be considered par for the course, perhaps even entertaining. But it also rankles, at least for this reader: a case of having your cake and eating it too.

Cohen’s novel, though, isn’t just funny – or a little irksome, depending on your point of view or perhaps your view of ’90s dramedies. While it is ostensibly the story of Yael’s recovery from depression, it also unearths the foundation of her despair, which is refreshingly not all about a “Mr Big”, the love interest in Sex and the City. We learn Yael is mired in grief.

Despite the psychologically authentic subject matter and Yael’s bouts of “ugly-crying”, Everyone and Everything keeps the narrative light and attractive. It embodies the early advice of Yael’s psychoanalyst to consume “fluffy crap only. Rom-coms, sitcoms, all the coms”. Which is to say, this novel dispenses a feminine form of solace.

Pantera Press, 320pp, $32.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 2, 2023 as "Everyone and Everything".

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