We Were the Universe

Knopf. May 2024. 288p. ISBN 9780525521853. $28. F
Parsons’s story collection Black Light was longlisted for the National Book Award, so there are high expectations for her first novel, a story about sex, psychedelics, parenting, and grief, told through a long look into the mind of the narrator. Kitty, a young mother living in a Texas suburb, is still trying to come to terms with the death of her sister a few years earlier. Kitty’s mother has always had hoarder tendencies, but those tendencies have risen to the extreme since losing her daughter. Meanwhile, Kitty’s own daughter is a precocious four-year-old who is nevertheless still breastfeeding and sleeping in the family bed, and Kitty’s husband is a good guy who is just worried about his wife. All of this is told from Kitty’s point of view in a meandering, unfiltered way, but because of that, readers don’t get to know any of the other characters. It is a bit of a slog to get through, with occasional insights and humor amid the pathos.
VERDICT Stream of consciousness is a literary device that doesn’t appeal to everyone, so buy for demand only. Steer this novel toward readers who loved Melissa Broder’s Death Valley, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, or Joyce Maynard’s The Bird Hotel.
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