“But the thing about getting clean … is that you have to get used to living with this tandem, shadow self around you – this other you which could exist”
Good Choices, by Bonny Brooks, tells the story of a thirty-five year old woman, P, who is questioning the direction she has allowed her life to take. P is a recovering junkie who has remained clean now for many years. She has built a métier for herself as a writer and is engaged to be married to a man with assets and education. She is unclear in her own mind, however, if this is the future she truly wants. She believes it would be a good choice, but the cost to her sense of self could be significant.
“This place is gentrified now and so am I. I have a career and an online presence. I have found better cheeses. And now I am sitting here pondering marriage over a green view like some Jane Austin cliché.”
The story is structured in two styles, intermingled. The first is a piece of writing the narrator is putting together, setting out the truth of how she feels about her fiancé. The second tells of her return visit to the rehab facility that helped her with the detox required to achieve recovery, to give a motivational talk to current patients. Here she meets a man she knew from her own time there, a fellow patient she had sex with. The conflict she is suffering comes to the fore when she realises she doesn’t want him to know she is engaged. She ponders the self she presents to men in order to be accepted.
“I’d learned that they didn’t want to listen; what they wanted was to watch themselves being listened to. That ultimately, they would rather a woman that thinks they are funny, than a funny woman. That they would rather a woman who thinks they are clever than a clever woman, and that ultimately, someone with too many thoughts of their own is in their way”
P’s fiancé is also a writer, one with a large and popular online presence. P is aware that he lives much of his life as a performance for his followers, something she has willingly collaborated with. Now, however, she is reminded of what she used to be. Which life, if either, was more honest and satisfying?
“like most of us to some degree, what you want is significance”
The insights offered on choices and relationships resonate. This is an author able to drill through complex issues with eloquent succinctness. The reader is provided with a lens through which an addict views their options: the damage wreaked by a high that is nevertheless desired for its escapism; the knowledge of what is missed when such drugs are eschewed.
The tension ratchets up as P’s life spirals. She wishes to appear responsible, to be accepted within the circles her fiancé inhabits, but isn’t so sure she can be herself in that world.
This is another pocket sized masterpiece to add to the Open Pen novelette series. A book with something to say that is well worth paying attention to.