The late 2010s have—at long last—been dominated by the public canceling of toxic men. But with every Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves who has been exposed, every misdeed uncovered, every moral depravity made public, it’s hard not to wonder about the people closest to them: the wives they betrayed and the children they raised. What must their lives be like? When are they complicit? And when is loyalty no longer an option?
These questions are at the heart of Jami Attenberg’s acerbic new novel, All This Could Be Yours, about the crumbling remains of a family undone by its cruel and careless patriarch.
We first meet Victor Tuchman on the verge of his deathbed. “He was an angry man, and he was an ugly man, and he was tall, and he was pacing,” Attenberg tells us in the first line of the book. Victor is angry because he’s lost most of his fortune to hush money payments and sexual harassment lawsuits; he’s stalking the length of the modest New Orleans condo where he and his wife are essentially hiding out; and, it quickly becomes clear, he’s ugly in more ways than one.
When Victor soon collapses from a massive heart attack, his family’s response is telling. His long-suffering wife, Barbra, breathes what appears to be a sigh of relief, then returns to flipping through Architectural Digest and obsessing over how many steps her Fitbit has counted that day. Daughter Alex, navigating her own messy divorce, comes to New Orleans to confront both of her parents about her loveless childhood (she seems to make more progress with her unconscious father than with Barbra). And son Gary, who was perhaps the most direct target of his father’s abuse, continues hiding out in Los Angeles and simply declines to participate in this family event.
It’s helpful that Victor is in a coma for much of the book because he—a cartoon-level villain in every sense of the word—is the least interesting character, and Attenberg doesn’t even attempt to reckon with his lack of a moral compass. Rather, she deftly explores the wounds he’s passed down to the next generations and the ways in which they’ve absorbed or rejected his traits. And, most interesting, she focuses on Barbra, who is often an unsympathetic character in her own right: a materialistic social climber, an indifferent mother and an absent grandmother. But Barbra is nuanced and fully, admirably drawn, and exploring why she stayed in the marriage for so long—and the betrayal that finally breaks her—is compelling.
This is Attenberg’s seventh novel, and she has again proved herself a master chronicler of complex family relationships. Certainly, none of us would want to claim the Tuchmans as our own—but we have much to gain by peering in at them from afar.