Published: Mar 18, 2012
My least favorite novel plot: A family gathers at the old summer home and secrets are revealed.
A close runner-up: “The Big Chill II,” with slackers getting together twenty seconds after they graduate from college to bemoan the state of the world and wonder where their lives went.
In “These Days Are Ours,” Michelle Haimoff’s debut novel, there’s a twist that’s even more deadly --- it’s six months after 9/11….in New York.
How hard did I fight liking --- even reading --- this book?
As hard as the secretly gay family member of that classy family who changed Mom’s will before murdering her works to keep anyone from going into the basement of the old summer home and finding the new cement behind the oil burner.
And the cast! In “These Days Are Ours,” we meet kids who went to private schools and studied semiotics at, like, Brown. They have a friend who sets his backpack down in the park while he plays Frisbee and the cops look through it and bust him for weed. They know Tom Cruise’s last three movie roles. They live with their parents in vast uptown apartments. They have DVF wrap dresses in their closets. The ones with jobs have routines: Morgan Stanley by day, the gym, getting drunk on weekends. And they can all talk in that ironic way you’d expect --- they can picture “the second major attack.”
And they know something powerful: The people who died on 9/11 were people who were “doing well.” That is, they had jobs. Which these kids mostly don’t. Hailey, especially, who is the narrator.
Unemployment grates on Hailey. Her mother is the publisher of Details Magazine, her stepfather is in the top tier at Conde Nast. --- she’s the “kid of.” Six months after her graduation, you’d think she could score some kind of employment.
Or, failing that, a boyfriend. She has her eye on Brenner, who has a prestigious followship he’ll follow up with Harvard Law. She’s slept with him, just once. She’d happily show up for more. Hell, she’d welcome his ring.
Fifty pages in, I hated most of these kids. Hated them like they were real people.
And then I realized: This is really good writing.
Yes, these kids are hateful to me. But I bet, if I were 24 and reading “These Days Are Ours,” I’d be nodding in recognition. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Their challenges and triumphs, their endless texting and meet-ups at bars and ham-fisted attempts at deep wisdom --- strip away the technology and the money, substitute grass for vodka, and, a gazillion years ago, that was me.
But I never had to describe, as Michelle Haimoff does, turning a corner and being confronted with Ground Zero: “It looked like King Kong had torn through the skyscraper forest so that he could have a little breathing room.” I’ve read a lot about 9/11, but nothing as good as that.
Haimoff has the wit to take her title from “The Obvious Child,” a Paul Simon song:
I am remembering a girl when I was young
And we said These songs are true
These days are ours
These tears are free…
But no tears are free --- not even the tears of twenty-somethings. And after a while, I began to care about them, about all of them. It’s not my fate to be the child of people who are bigger successes than I’ll ever be, and it’s probably not yours, but if the characters are drawn well enough, yeah, I can see that could be a bitch. And so I began to turn the pages faster to find out what happens for those kids.
Come for the shallow, stay for the deep.
I was curious to interview a young writer who was so deft in her first novel. Michelle Haimoff and I met, and, over coffee, had the kind of conversation that was like an echo of her book.
JK: Your first fake ID?
JK: Who were you in high school?
MH: The one staying up all night talking to my friends on the phone, finding out what was really important.
JK: Favorite college drink?
MH: I didn’t drink until after college.
JK: How much of your notes for this book were made on bar napkins with rings from glass?
MH: More like a box of magazine subscription cards, air-sickness bags --- and napkins.
JK: Where were you on 9/11?
MH: Argentina. My then boyfriend was living there. I was visiting him. People stopped us in the street to tell us.
JK: When did you return to New York?
MH: Two weeks later. I didn’t get it. I’d say things like, “Letterman must have had a field day with this.” My friends had to correct me: “No, he was in tears.”
JK: And later?
MH: I was horrified that New York got beyond it so fast.
JK: You write: "I remember Fashion Week, how everyone wore black…”
MH: It became a marketing gimmick - the fashion week mourning theme, the 9/11 souvenirs (mugs, snow globes).
JK: “Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close…”
MH: I couldn’t get through it.
JK: You live in LA. Why?
MH: My husband. Someone had to move.
JK: You compare New York for kids in their 20s to “A Moveable Feast.” How is it to live in Los Angeles?
MH: It's like the survivor's colony at the end of “I Am Legend.”
JK: A domestic question: Sheets --- does thread count matter?
MH: It’s meaningless. It’s much more about where the cotton comes from.
JK: What do you listen to?
MH: A lot of music on vinyl. We got a turntable as a wedding present.
JK: Generations last two or three years. When you were in the post-college cohort...
MH: Drinks weren’t $15 then. A vodka tonic was maybe $5 or $6. And sometimes a banker would buy a round.
JK: You’re now beyond the just-post-college generation. Do you…
MH: I have no idea what they’re like.