No Baggage (★★★☆☆)

 

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Clara Bensen  *  Running Press  *  January 5, 2016  *  288 Pages

Clara Bensen is 20-something and unsure of who she is and what she wants. After graduating college, she begins the process of applying to grad schools…but ends up having a nervous breakdown instead. Months of existential crisis and social isolation ensue. Eventually, she begins to feel ready to join the land of the living again, so she creates an online dating profile and meets Jeff. After only a few weeks of dating, they decide to travel around Europe together with virtually no luggage. Just to see what happens.

While I like the premise of this book–and while there is no doubt that Bensen is a thoughtful, earnest person and a good writer–I can’t say that I really LOVE No Baggage. First, I wish the book had been more about Bensen and less about her boyfriend. Oh, I get the appeal. Believe me, I’ve been there. He’s a little bit crazy. He’s kind of fun, and he helps you get out of your head. But he’s masquerading as a Relationship Pioneer! when really he’s just unwilling to do the hard, hard work of talking through the inevitable crap that comes up when you are in an adult relationship. (Those episodes of silent treatment followed by “everything is fine now!” is called stonewalling and avoidance. John Gottman wrote a great book about that–and other self-preservation tactics–called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. It is wonderful and worth checking out.) Basically, I wish Bensen had been able to forget about Jeff for a little bit. Let it happen or not, you know? Make HIM do some of the emotional heavy lifting. If he wants you, he will come to you. If he doesn’t, well, at least go out there and have a good time–just for you.

But then again–and this is the other part of the book that irks me–Bensen reminds me SO much of myself at 20. Seriously, I kept thinking of going through these exact same experiences at this exact same age. (And my present self still can’t decide whether I should go back in time and give myself a hug or punch myself in the face.) On the one hand, I completely understand where she is coming from. This is the time when you are more me-focused. Your thoughts on life are so important. You think you are revolutionary for discovering that you don’t matter as much as you thought…yet, somehow NO ONE IN THE UNIVERSE understands this like you do. You aren’t special, but somehow you still are? Ugh, I get it. I wish I didn’t, but I do. Unfortunately, though, this hyper-self-aware mental masturbation just doesn’t make for the best reading material. It’s self-indulgent. And even if you don’t mean it do be, well, it’s pretty much always going to come across that way.

In the end, I think this book is the best it can be for what it is. It’s a good start, and Bensen is definitely on my radar. I’ll just be expecting a little more from her next time.

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