This novel grabbed me, its spine peeking out of the “New Books” display with a flash of recognition. I’d heard the accolades for this debut novel, and was thrilled to finally check it out.
You Exist Too Much is a non-linear, complex slice of life novel of our unnamed narrator’s loves and losses. The narrator is a young, queer, Palestinian woman who we follow all across the world: globetrotting across the U.S. including New York City and the Midwest, Jordan, Palestine, Italy, and many more. The narrator has an insatiable hunger for love and desire, and wickedly dark sense of humour and outlook on the world, but realizes she’s more in love with the fantasy she creates of the people she gets involved with than the reality of the relationships.
Early on in the novel, her long-term relationship with her partner Anna, whom she met in eating disorder recovery inpatient treatment, implodes due to our narrator being found out in having multiple different levels of affairs with many people. This leads to her going to a rehabilitation center for “love addiction”, and of course, hijinks ensue.
Zana Arafat’s writing reminded of Raven Leilani’s incredible novel Luster, and in some ways, A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar, in how they handle contemporary messy romance and living after the impact of your parent’s relationship (if it was less than Brady Bunch level of bliss).
Her relationship with her mother is fraught and intense and underlies all of her relationships. I found it really touching that the narrator loved her mother so deeply, and also understood the harm her mother had caused her by her own unresolved traumas. The narrator’s mother, Laila, was such a full, glamorous, and often terrifying character to read.
It was also really cool to read a story about a queer, Palestinian woman’s experience moving through her 20’s and early 30’s.
You Exist Too Much made me ponder the idea that novels should have “likable characters” – by many people’s standards, the narrator and her mother in this book, who I consider are the main focus, are “unlikable”. Both the narrator and her mother can be desperate, bitter, and cruel at times. The narrator at the crux of it is just person trying to feel loved and find a place that feels like home, which I think all of us can relate to. As well, the narrator’s mother rebelled against her parents and married extremely young and regretted it, and couldn’t handle the pain of that in a healthy way.
Are likable characters important for you in a novel? Let us know!
— Jackie M.