Friday, December 7, 2012

book review: These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff

The backstory: I discovered These Days Are Ours when Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and said "What differentiates the book from similar fables with young protagonists able to afford endless rounds of drinks in hipster bars is Hailey’s sense of self and her thoughtful inner life; the shopping and club crawls of her privileged life are just a backdrop, not the story." I immediately pre-ordered it for my Kindle, where I foolishly let it languish for nine months before reading it.

The basics: These Days Are Ours follows Hailey, a recent college graduate, in New York City in the spring of 2002. She and her privileged high school friends are in various states of employment, but they're also all still processing 9/11 and expecting another terrorist attack at any time. Hailey searches for a job, a life, a sense of belonging, and a sense of purpose.

My thoughts: As I said the last time I rated a book 6 stars out of 5, "About once a year, I encounter a book that works for me on every level...It's a novel I immediately wanted to stick in people's hands and say "read this book." These Days Are Ours is the fourth such book since I started blogging. (The others are American Wife by Curtis SittenfeldRoom by Emma Donoghue, and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.)

Even though I enjoyed this novel from the beginning, Haimoff's writing snuck up on me. This novel unfolds both slowly and quickly as the reader gets to know Hailey. There is a hopefulness and youthfulness to her initially as she imagines her future life with her crush: "And our kid—kids—would ask us what we were whispering about. And we’d say, “Nothing.” And the kids would roll their eyes because we always had these private jokes." I was transported back to my early twenties, a time in which I imagined many possible lifes for myself.

Hailey also has a sense of honesty and tragi-comedy I adored: "The thing that would be awesome about getting blown up by terrorists is that everyone would think we had all this unrealized potential." While she could come across as flippant, instead Haimoff reminded me of those unsettled feelings post-9/11 as we adjusted into what our new normal would become.

Part of what I love about Hailey is how she reminded me of the significance encounters have when you're 22:
"Okay, okay. But the point is, we ended up going on a weird walk together for seltzer and then eating macaroons on his roof and then having sex.” 
“That’s the most Jewish thing I’ve ever heard in my life. You should call your grandmother right now and tell her this story. You had seltzer and macaroons and sex with a Jewish future lawyer. On Passover." 
Haimoff couples the earnestness of Hailey's voice with her emotional rawness beautifully. As a reader I never felt dismissive of Hailey's feelings, as I increasingly do with coming of age novels. Instead, Haimoff reminded me of those years and transported my emotions back to 2002.

Perhaps one of the reasons this novel resonates so deeply with  me is Hailey and her friends are around the age I was in the spring of 2002. The pop culture and media references were spot on. Haimoff so captured that time, both in the time of 2002 and the state of being 22. The combination is particularly poignant, as the uncertainty of post-college days pairs beautifully with the uncertainty of the post-9/11 months: "Most sadness isn’t debilitating; it just makes regular life seem a little stupid."

The more I read, the more slowly I read. I began to savor Hailey's sentiment and cared less about the ending than her journey. I highlighted more obsessively as I read, and I ended up with 35 highlighted passages and almost as many notes. If I could change one thing about the reading experience, I would read this novel listening to a Spotify playlist composed of all the songs mentioned in this book. The next time I read it, I will.

Favorite passage:  "It was that undefined pause between the past and the future that had no other significance other than us experiencing it together."

The verdict: These Days Are Ours is a refreshing, smart, accomplished, ambitious, intimate and beautiful novel of hope, fear, longing, sadness, and life. It's a novel I will give to many, many people this holiday season because Michelle Haimoff has captured the essence not only of my generation, but of early adulthood and post-9/11 New York. It's a novel I will re-read in the years to come. It's a novel I will share with my children and with my nieces and nephews to help them understand what it was like.

Rating: 6 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: February 28, 2012
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy These Days Are Ours from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. What!! I'm so excited to see another 6 out of 5 read for you, and I've never even heard of this one, LOL!!! I already planned on reading American Wife, but I will have to add this one too because I've enjoyed all the books that you've said are amazing. Plus, I have that nyc shelf I always add to and like reading books about post 9/11. I think I might have to pick up this one on my next trip to the bookstore!

    1. Jenny, I can't wait to hear your thoughts! I really hope this novel finds a wider readership. It's phenomenal.

  2. I saw your post literally first thing after I finished my last book and was headed to the library to get more to read. I agree with you about your other "6 star" reads so when I saw this on the shelf I grabbed it. Finished it in 2 days and LOVED it. The author's voice was spot on- sometimes it's easy to right the big conversations in dialogue but forget to capture the silly little things people say. Haimoff hit just the right note.

    Thanks for directing me to a great read. Really surprised I hadn't heard of this before as it got good reviews in major pubs!

    1. Hee hee- sorry for the typo in "write". It's been a long day...

    2. Jennifer, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one too! As we seem to have similar taste, do you have any recommendations for me?

  3. Thank you for your reply! I decided this year to embrace reserving books at the library and read mostly new works, so a lot of our reading is similar. But I have to say, the best book I read this year was loaned to me by me sister and you might enjoy it too. It was Cheryl Strayed's "Tiny Beautiful Things." I, too, really enjoyed "Wild" and dream about thru hiking the Appalachian Trail (I've actually section hiked parts of it.) But the collection of her advice columns writings was even more beautiful and honest.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I need to get a copy of Tiny Beautiful Things. I so loved Wild. I'm also looking forward to Strayed's novel.

  4. Honestly, I don't know that I would read this based on the description alone. Your review, however, has me intrigued. I've added it to my TBR!


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