Tom MacWright

I read The New Me by Halle Butler on


The kitchen is the heart of the home, no one has touched my body in more than a year, and I have a beautiful living space.

I read most of this on a BART train, from 24th Street in San Francisco to Rockridge in Oakland, and back. It hit hard.

The New Me deserves a trigger warning: it’s a particular illustration of depression. It isn’t poetic. Unlike Conversations with Friends or Priestdaddy, the central figure isn’t an extraordinarily talented poet or writer, and so there aren’t clever ways to describe colors, feelings, settings.

Instead, Butler works with juxtaposition and plain language that is still sharp to cut through you.

I pick up the scraps of dough and lower them into the pot of boiling water, while my dad tells me about Spoetzl, and how they just throw wads of dough into the pot and it comes out looking like a sea sponge. I don’t want the sun to dip any lower.

I read The New Me at the right time, when I was lonely and sad enough to want to explore the feelings but not so much that it’d cause some sort of spiral. What it’s about I’ve been adjacent to, having graduated in a recession that didn’t touch a lot of people but stalled others terribly.

A lot of reviewers focus on whether the main character is likeable in this one. They also ask whether the characters in Conversation with Friends are likeable. I think there are two principles here.

  • First, likeability is relatability. A book like this one is probably inconceivable to certain generations of readers. They look at Millie’s career and suspect that she could have hustled a little harder and stopped whining and gotten the job.
  • Second, likeability is important for a certain kind of comfort. It’s no accident that most sitcoms make everyone charming in the micro even if they’re morally fraught in the macro. Maybe we want to turn on the novel and see friends like our friends. And maybe I find people in these novels likeable because they aren’t so unlike some friends.

End likeability rant.

It’s a good book, if you want to get in its headspace.