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Monday, September 15, 2008

Instructions for Living Someone Else's Life

****½ Instructions for Living Someone Else's Life by Mil Millington. General fiction.

Thank goodness for author newsletters. If I weren't on Mil Millington's newsletter mailing list, I'd never have known this book was out. To any authors wondering whether or not to set up a newsletter, here's my vote for "please do!"

And thank goodness for Amazon.de. Instructions for Living Someone Else's Life isn't out in the U.S. yet (which is why the link in the header is to Amazon.de). Given the exchange rate (though it's been soaring upward lately and is currently higher than it's been in about 3 years), it's a little more expensive, but I got the book in 3 days, and shipping on books is free even if you only buy one, which is very cool. Here's the Amazon.ca link for anyone in North America who's thinking of buying it: Instructions for Living Someone Else's Life.

As the book opens, 25-year-old Chris is out with his friends, celebrating his intention to quit his job in advertising which he despises but which he's, perversely, very good at, and anticipating a fight with his girlfriend because he didn't tell her about this ahead of time.

The next thing he knows, he's waking up in bed with a strange woman. Hilarity and hijinks ensue and it finally becomes clear that it's now 2006--18 years later, that strange woman is his wife, and nothing is the same... except that he's apparently still at the same job.

The whole story is a fabulous metaphor for middle age--if you are or have been middle-aged, you'll recognize the feeling; if you're not yet, you can imagine and relate to the horror Chris feels at being 25 and finding himself stuck in a 43-year-old body and a 43-year-old life.

As with Millington's previous books (Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About (#4), A Certain Chemistry, and Love and Other Near-Death Experiences), the laughs are non-stop, because it's all so very true. His characters are ruthlessly real, and I dare you not to recognize bits of yourself in them, even while you're wincing and denying it.

I did have a quibble--which is why this only got 4.5 stars instead of the usual 5 for Millington's books: the story about Chris's old boss came from out of nowhere and went nowhere--it didn't connect to anything else in the story. Same with old friend Nick's infidelity. I got the impression that connecting bits got edited out at some point in the process.

Otherwise, I absolutely loved this book. The myriad changes Chris discovered and tried to come to terms with were familiar, but the way they were presented made me look at them in a new way, and laugh about them. Everything from cell phones (a Star Trek device?) to fashion (40-somethings wearing jeans??) to television (mean-spirited reality shows) to society (it's really okay to say you don't care about politics?), and of course the physical changes--the redistribution of hair, the addition of pounds, how waking up with a hangover in your 20s feels like waking up on a normal morning in your 40s.... Most pointed is how nothing really turned out the way you expected.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone who is, has been, or hopes to eventually become middle-aged.

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