I might have read all the good books as a reader and reviewer. I’ve not done the latter since the Three Guys One Book days, and before that I cut my teeth at Ain’t it Cool News as their book reviewer for too many years. If that’s true, then I’m sad, but I hope it’s not. Over the last few years (if you call them that, it felt more like extended trauma) in the contemporary fiction world, I’ve witnessed a steady decline in what I like to read. My diet is dark, literary-fill-the-bathtub-depressing realism with a side dish of damning non-fiction. I’ve witnessed the birth of Chuck Palahniuk, the emergence of A.M. Homes, and the rise of James Ellroy (he is a particular flavor unfamiliar to most palettes) just to name a few. In years gone by, David Benioff wrote several books that I’d swear by, but nothing since City of Thieves, as he is busy with Game of Thrones. (To say out loud the distractions that have sidelined the novel would not only be boring, but the cause of boredom.) I finally got around to We Need to Talk About Kevin and realized that the nastiest writer on the planet might be Lionel Shriver. I devoured Ms. Homes’s most recent novel The Unfolding, which put a finger on the boondoggle that is politics in America. I’ve read all her books, so I feel like it’s my duty to read them as they come out of the word processor. 

I’ve seen the movie Heat more times than I’m comfortable admitting. So, when Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner wrote a prequel to the movie called Heat 2 I was all in. Was it everything I wanted? Of course not. Was it worthy of being published, yes and no. A little book by Jonathan Dee called Sugar Street was riveting, maddening to witness, and worth all the money the publisher spent to print, bind, and ship it to your local independent bookstore. Mr. Dee is married to one of my all-time favorite writers Dana Spiotta, who recently published Wayward, a regional novel with worldwide appeal. I listened to and loved The Shards which was read aloud each week by Bret Easton Ellis on his podcast (over the pandemic). BEE serves as the emperor of the auto-fiction genre. Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson was terrific, and Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh felt like a masterpiece.

book cover for Mercy StreetThat’s all behind me now, I guess. I don’t read books twice. I won’t look back because we’re not going that way. I’ve set down more novels in the last two months than I will admit here, and certainly not by name. Trauma porn, end of the world porn, and naval-gazing porn—I might be expecting too much. I’m not convinced that traditional publishing is where we’ll find great novels. Who is pushing back against the status quo? Where are the rascals?  

I’ve been reading literary fiction for over twenty years. All kinds, colors, shapes, flavors, good and bad. I’m not here to dump on novelists. It’s hard work. I’ve written four unpublished—some would say unpublishable, which is the opposite of unputdownable—novels, and it’s damn hard. Literary fiction never really sells, at least not enough to buy the purveyors of it an island.

Which brings me to Hannah Pittard. I’m her Annie Wilkes. I wait patiently for each book. She strikes a chord with me, and I’m not sure what it is, but she writes like she means it. When I read her debut The Fates Will Find Their Way, the ground shifted, colors changed, and food tasted different. I’ve been devoted ever since. Full disclosure—we’re friends. We broke bread once and correspond here and there. We have mutual friends. The longer I stay in the book game the more writers I’m bound to meet. This isn’t a fluff piece to help a friend—I have objectivity—but I’m predisposed to like her writing. When there were whispers of a memoir, (kind of) I felt joy (hard to find these days). With Hannah’s fiction I always feel unreasonable proximity to her characters. I suggest you start at the beginning and read her books in order. It’s worth it. Meanwhile, start here with this:

We Are Too Many, A Memoir (kind of) 

by Hannah Pittard

Henry Holt, on sale May 2023.

Have you been married? Have you thought about getting married? If you don’t want to get divorced, then don’t get married. Having lived through divorce myself, I know it isn’t easy. A marriage that ends the way Hannah’s does, isn’t pretty. Does it fall apart before the infidelity? I’d say Hannah and her husband were stepping on sidewalk cracks long before Hannah realized her husband was stepping out on her. Sadly, it’s her best friend Trish who plays the role of “the greener pasture”. We Are Too Many is a portrait of whiplash, and Hannah lays it all out. The first half of this book is written in a screenplay format, kind of. It’s a lot like Cormac McCarthy’s attempt at a screenplay for the movie The Counselor. (Yes, I’m the guy who reads the screenplay from a movie, especially that movie.) Hannah admits up front that she’s changed the names and makes it clear that she did the best she could on getting the conversations right, but this stuff happened. Only kind of. It feels like all show, no tell, which is my favorite kind of writing—just show me, I don’t need a lecture. I carried a pen with me while reading my advance copy because this book is that good, and I circled paragraphs and page numbers so I could find my favorite parts. 

Page 18, Hannah and her sister Greta have a back and forth that makes you want to look away, and this isn’t even the worst of it. Hannah and Trish talk about eating disorders and jog bras. This is funny ha-ha, but it’s also a compelling warts-and-all insight into friendship, unvarnished at best.  

Page 40, Trish texts Hannah, oh lord, this is so good, skip right to this page when you get the book. But wait! Hannah, Trish, and Patrick, the man they unfortunately share, are on a text chain that will bring tears to your eyes. Does this feel like gossip? Yep. Which makes it even better. According to Bret Easton Ellis it’s all about style, and this book loaded with it. Hannah’s husband Patrick seems obtuse to most things, shopping for lamb is one of them, money too, but which of us is perfect? Who likes lamb? 

Hannah suffers a personal loss, and she shows it well, even delivering a definition of her own anger through an exchange with her mother. There are so many secrets spilled in these pages it’s hard to imagine a person writing them down and telling anyone. (It is a memoir, kind of.) Thankfully Hannah does. I sensed a bit of class divide between Patrick and her, right down to where their respective families food-shopped when they were kids. The other tip-off is money. I’ve noticed it in my own friendships and relationships and it’s a sticky wicket all around. The narrative here is elastic, plays with time, and how it effects Hannah and the reader. No story is ever linear. Just look around. What we remember versus what happened and when. I’m obsessed with it in my own fiction and always wonder what kind of person I was at a certain age and how I’ve changed since then. You also get the feels from this book; Hannah is telling this story while falling down an elevator shaft. Early on she’s a waitress with a taste for alcohol, and not much else. She sounded a little like Merritt Tierce, from her fantastic novel Love Me Back. The voices are desperate, and the bodies covered with self-inflicted wounds. 

By the time we pull into the second half of the book, things have settled down, and we’re into the details. Hannah is at her most vulnerable in these pages and reveals so much to the reader it can’t help but bring you closer to her. We get to know her and in a lot of ways root for her and wish for less turbulence all around. We Are Too Many and Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta, could’ve been two hundred pages longer, but that’s just me talking. Both authors don’t write fast enough for my appetite. However, when they do, there is much so much to enjoy. I envy the reader who hasn’t read Hannah Pittard. Your virgin eyes are so lucky.