The title You Are Here is not the helpful marker found on the mall or subway map; it’s the alienating one pointing to the microscopic dot on the existentially joking poster of the universe.
Now, to ward off this alienation, Janet and James are seeing each other, as are Cindy and Andrew. On a different timeline, Stephanie and Alan are seeing each other, although Alan’s married, so the relationship is complicated. Once, Janet and Cindy were seeing each other; they even lived together, but things didn’t work out. Moving through the dating permutations, Cindy comments that people tend to “consume others simply for the sake of the experience.”
The poles are set, then, between complete alienation and consumption. On the side of alienation are ineluctable events from the local (a train crash, the World Trade Center) to the national (the re-election of George W. Bush, the ensuing presidency) to the international (the fighting in Fallujah, the Iraq War in general). The reader learns these events are on-going from short lists of headlines spotted on the subway or in passing, by brief broadcasts which are quickly switched off. It’s as if the reader, too, by focusing on You Are Here, is ignoring the universe’s puissant “You Don’t Matter” forever repeated by the news.
Breckenridge’s characters make themselves matter by substituting the personal for the geopolitical, by retreating into unhealthy or at least ill-advised relationships, by playing the old meta-narrative game: the May – December romance, the cheater and his mistress, the consumer and the consumed.
But these small attempts at organizing the universe are failures. Rendered in a beautifully fragmented combination of dialogue and description, the characters, in trying to play their selected roles, aren’t able to focus on the lines, either because of a continued inner-pain, outright egocentrism, or a seeming attention deficit, as if what’s being said couldn’t possibly be worthwhile; the lines are mumbled by melancholic actors to ennui-riddled co-actors searching for something to organize or lend meaning to their lives. Furthermore, Breckenridge skillfully splices scenes together, combining present-time conversations and actions with sometimes painful, sometimes banal memories that serve to slightly unmoor the reader, but which also show how plotless the characters’ lives are. Any attempt to combat alienation only leads to alienation.
Desperate for organization and meaning, three of the characters try to control their lives by writing semi-autobiographical works, which Breckenridge, ever the splicer, seamlessly includes in You Are Here. There is a short story, a play, an idea for a novel, a novel-in-progress, a guide on writing fiction, all opening onto the metafictional hall of mirrors (there is even a character named “Donald”), leaving the readers to wonder how to solve the puzzle:
“And you’re turning this play into a novel?”
“There isn’t really going to be any play…it’s all fiction.”
He furrowed his brow, “Oh really?”
I tried to elaborate, “the novel is loosely based on a production of a performance that never happened.” (59-60)
However, I will make no attempt to untie this Gordian knot of relationships and potential textual versions because one of the many joys in this novel is wondering if one of the characters wrote any given section. After trying to put the puzzle together for the first half of the book (who’s dating who and when, who’s writing what and why, who are the “real people” of the You Are Here universe and who are the characters from the semi-autobiographical works), the reader will realize that the point isn’t to assemble the jigsaw (though there is a good deal of fun in that), but to understand that any final assemblage is subjective, that the pieces could go together many different ways.
About the author:
Past works of mine have appeared in or will appear in The Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, New Orleans Review, Northwest Review, and Harpur Palate. My first book, Self-Titled Debut, was published by Subito Press in December 2008 after winning the Subito Press Contest.
I am currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I have an M.A. from the University of Tennessee, and an M.F.A. from the University of Alabama.