Published: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 256 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
A debut novel in stories that follows one woman’s life from age 16 to 60, and what happens when certain celebrities—Neil Young, Meryl Streep, John Updike, Taylor Swift, Karl Ove Knausgaard—start turning up in her private life, at the spa, in the middle of a break-up, even on the operating table.
Rose McEwan has lived her life out of the spotlight—daughter, wife, mother, ex-wife, journeyman writer trying to make ends meet. But even so, fame has come to her.
When she is 16, Rose’s parents send her to an arts school where a writing class with John Updike takes an extracurricular turn. After college she goes backpacking around the world with a boyfriend, and while their relationship implodes, she finds herself camping in a cave near the young, pre-famous Joni Mitchell. When she is back home waitressing, Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd show up and whisk her away for some synchronized swimming. Bob Dylan crashes her summer cottage and won’t buy groceries, but at least teaches her son how to play the guitar. During a trip to the Cannes Film Festival, where her husband’s film will premiere, Rose becomes convinced she is being stalked by Charlotte Rampling. Treating herself to a weekend at a spa after the publication of her first novel, Rose is befriended a little too quickly by Meryl Streep. Having failed in her marriage (Gwyneth Paltrow dispenses romantic and skin care advice) and as a thriller writer, she applies for a job writing ad copy but en route to the interview, Van Morrison hijacks her bus. And in the somehow totally plausible final chapter, Rose finds herself on a camping trip with Leonard Cohen, Taylor Swift, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Filled with spot-on social commentary, Jackson shows how the famous serve us in ways we don’t recognize. But, more importantly, she shows how the daily dramas of an ordinary woman’s life are as engrossing and poignant as any luminary tell-all. Unputdownable, deliciously fun, and incredibly thought provoking, Don’t I Know You? puts an unremarkable woman center stage, and shows how in the end, an ordinary life might be the most extraordinary one.
Very rarely I come across a book that inspires such wanderlust in me that I can barely keep from throwing necessities in a bag and rushing out the door, never to be seen again. Inexplicably, Don’t I Know You? was one of those books. It’s not even a book that’s specifically about travelling, though there a few chapters that the character, Rose McEwan, spends abroad. Don’t I Know You? is strange- Rose McEwan is a writer with a number of relationship faux pas under her belt, but the curious thing is how celebrities just seem to show up throughout her life.
The celebrities aren’t specially designed fictional characters; they’re actual celebrities like Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Keith Richards, and Meryl Streep. Of course, they’ve been fictionalized for this story and the encounters certainly aren’t real, or based of anything real. The funny thing is that, for the most part these people just pop into Rose’s life in one interesting way or another, but they’re just so normal. They aren’t being red carpet superstars- Bob Dylan decides to take Rose’s air mattress for a paddle around the lake and becomes a house guest for an unacceptable length of time. Meryl Streep is her spa buddy. You can get the picture.
I liked the format of the book because each chapter was kind of a short story unto itself. The chapters follow the courses of Rose’s life, but we never get bogged down in one period for too long, and her boyfriends, husband, and children remain somewhat distant, like extras in a movie. I’ll be honest, Rose’s life made me really sad because it seemed like love was a failed endeavour for her. She had a moderately successful life, children that seemed distant, and a heck of a lot of stories to tell her friends but the overall tone was melancholy. The setting frequently changed- Canada, to France, to Greece, to perhaps somewhere in the US. The constant change kept me on my toes and never once did I get bored.
Don’t I Know You? was a great change in pace for me and a good little break from tons of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Young Adult books. If anyone has recommendations for some good contemporary fiction, I would appreciate your suggestions! I look forward to adding some more things like this to my reading list, just for some novelty (pun not intended). This is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read before and enjoyed it immensely. Huge thanks to Flatiron Books for sending this to me- it was a great surprise!