This Is Where We Live
This Is Where We Live is the second novel of Janelle Brown. It is the tale of a struggling filmmaker, Claudia, and her marriage to Jeremy Munger, a struggling musician. A couple in their thirties who are also new homeowners, the Mungers deal with the financial burden of their home and the shortcomings of their luck in the ways of talent in different ways. While Brown has a funny and insightful writing style, the novel ultimately falls flat. Formulaic, harsh on women, and with underdeveloped characters, Brown’s novel could have been far more powerful, but instead stayed within the safe boundaries of the “chick-lit” genre.
The strength in Brown’s book was in its ability to inspire the readers to think about their own life choices. I thought that the struggles the Mungers faced were very relatable, particularly in facing the realities of financial hardship. Brown explores the question of what happens when people with creative aspirations give up on their dreams and deal with “reality.” The dialogue was honest and witty, and presented a great account of struggling to be an optimist in a world that has become obsessed with predictability.
The women in the novel were quite problematic. Brown reinforces a few binaries recycled from romantic comedies. Conveniently, in the midst of a quasi-quarter-life crisis moment for Jeremy, his wildly artistic and unpredictable ex-girlfriend, famous artist Aoki suddenly reappears. Aoki represents everything that Claudia is not. She is impulsive, confident, sexual, and just as Jeremy remembers her from his days dating her while he was a part of a successful rock band. Claudia represents the polar opposite: stability, comfort, and reality. The female characters are one-dimensional, lazy vehicles for two cliché stereotypes of women. Brown pits comfort and stability against the unpredictable and artsy woman, an epic battle already examined in many a romantic comedy. Thus, in focusing on the romantic struggles of Jeremy, the characters are left underdeveloped.
I did enjoy how Brown left loose ends, and how the tone of the book is not happy or sad. Despite its flaws, This Is Where We Live is a great easy and lazy read, particularly for an intelligent woman on the beach. While I predicted the plot and outcome of the novel before I even opened the book, Brown’s charming wit shined through this formulaic tale. However, the astounding number of cliches overpowers the funny and unique moments of the book, such as Claudia’s relationship with an elderly neighbor or her stint as a film teacher. Despite its honesty and ability to reach out to readers, This Is Where We Live is rendered mediocre because of its inability to stray from the formula.