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TELL ME EVERYTHING
by Cambria Brookman
Ballantine, July 2019
$27.00
ISBN: 1984817213


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

TELL ME EVERYTHING is a college-friends whodunit. Readers understand early in Brockman's new novel that, among a group of college friends who share a house, not all the friends make it to graduation day. The first person narrator, good at listening at doors and snooping in the pages of diaries, reveals the complex relationships among the housemates as she learns them. Interspersed with revelations on campus, revelations of the narrator's life dose readers with scenes of a dysfunctional family.

Dramatis personae: Gemma, theater major, sexually needy, frankly attracted to all men and desperate to fit in, her mother is American, and her father is Pakistani; Khaled, pre-med, whose father is the finance minister of Abu Dhabi, a normal guy; Denise, a blow-up life-sized sex doll who is a member of the friends' household; Ruby, art history student, beautiful, attractive, soccer scholarship, fixated on John, genuine, yet sadly needy; Max, pre-med student, photographer, quiet, kind, not simply the sort of kindness calculated to gain him traction with women, he has a terrible anxiety disorder that he tries to hide; John, Max's cousin, of course an economics major, absolutely privileged, has never been told that anything is forbidden him, money, privilege, success, fame, and the immediate sexual attention of any woman who takes his fancy all fall into his hands; Malin, pre-law and English major, whose father's parting words to her are to pretend that she is normal, just like all the other freshmen at Hawthorne College; Celia, Malin's mother, whom tragedy has permanently injured; Hale, a graduate student in English who is attracted to Malin

TELL ME EVERYTHING's title plays on the idea of best college friends who gossip about professors and exams, their boyfriends and their parents, their fears about themselves, their hopes for a future in which they are somehow transformed into some better-balanced and highly employable professional who has no emotional entanglements.

The room-mates of Brockman's novel have entanglements. Definitely GenXers, the multi-cultural students easily navigate racial and cultural differences, but many come from parents who are missing, or who have forgotten how to be a parent. Those missing years of security and encouragement bubble to the surface as her characters exit their high-school years and attempt to start lives of their own.

As Malin's friend Ruby enters a deeply dependent relationship with the callow John, Malin witnesses John's increasingly cruel behavior. John's violence becomes unmanageable during the friends' senior year at Hawthorne. Complex lines of knowledge and power between the group members unravel on Senior Day, a day of alcoholic overindulgence and public performances of excess. Against the backdrop of escalating neediness, violence, lust, and sexual betrayal, Malin's early life is revealed in flashbacks. She is the most controlled, the quietest, most studious, and best observer. That control comes naturally in spite of a terrible accident which claimed the life of Malin's brother. That death is constantly present to Malin as her friends begin navigating through the senior hazing rituals whose meanings are lost and which are done "because it is tradition." John's treatment of Ruby escalates, his solicitation of sex from multiple partners taunts and angers those who are witness. In the end, something must give, and readers are treated to a scene of a perfect crime.

Cathy Downs is Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she teaches American literature and remains a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, June 2019

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