Halle Butler on Millennial Burnout and the Frustrations of Living
With Christopher Hermelin and Drew Broussard on So Many Damn Books
On So Many Damn Books, Christopher Hermelin (@cdhermelin) and Drew Broussard (@drewsof) discuss reading, literature, publishing, and trying to make it through their never dwindling stack of things to read. All with a themed drink in their hands!
Halle Butler joins Christopher and Drew in the Damn Library to discuss her new novel, The New Me, and how she thought of domestic thrillers while she wrote it, and tried to create comedy out of millennial burnout and not having the clearest picture of yourself. Plus, she brings in Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, and there’s a robust discussion of voice and sucking stones, amongst other subjects. Also, what’s that song she’s talking about?
Drew Broussard: I keep coming back in my daily life for all kinds of reasons to that Buzzfeed piece that ran a couple months ago about this idea of burnout, specifically how it’s affecting the millennial generation and looking at all the ways that these simple tasks that we set out to do. You know, I’ve had this roll of film that I’ve needed to take three blocks down the street to get developed for two months. This is the first time I’ve read a book and it’s like, here it is. Did you feel not a responsibility but feel like you were explaining something to people that maybe don’t get it?
Halle Butler: No, I really only wanted to write parts of this for my friends that would get it or make them laugh. Not that I think the book is totally funny all the time, but when I started writing the book it was 2016 and it was right at the beginning of this idea of millennial burnout. That kind of happened after this first draft was finished. I was not looking so much out at cultural commentary that I had been reading and trying to craft a fable based on that. I don’t mean fable in a dismissive way. I love fables, like Kafka.
I was reacting how if you look at advice on the Internet on pop psychology blogs, they’ll tell you to do really simple things like “go for a walk,” “call someone,” “stretch,” “be kind to someone,” “eat some oranges.” Similarly on business blogs: “work on your resume,” “read this,” “go easy,” “ask for feedback.” These seem like reasonable rational steps to make yourself better, but they don’t totally understand the feeling of paralysis when you are depressed and stuck in a job with seemingly no way out. It seemed like a simple problem to fix—Millie’s perspective or work situation—because she’s smart enough to fix it but there is something fabulous in the atmosphere that is holding her in one mood and in one place. That is what I was interested in capturing because it was something I heard my friends talk about and something I’ve experienced too.
“To give the book a happy ending or some sort of transformation would undo the flavor of the book.”
Christopher Hermelin: This also feels spiritually similar to your last book and exploring a similar place. Do you want to stay in this space?
HB: I definitely see this as an evolution of Jillian. It’s hard for me to say because it’s hard to get perspective on one’s self. In some ways, Jillian is more playful and the narrator’s concerns are a little bit more artistic. She’s very critical of her friends for seeking validation for their work in a commercial way because she doesn’t see a path for that. She’s lashing out, and that’s such a simplification of our friend Megan. The New Me is not twenty-four; it’s thirty. I wanted to just clamp it down, make it a little more shoulders up and claustrophobic.
DB: There’s something about the ending of the book where everything gets built up with what’s going to happen and then it’s like life just keeps going.
CH: And it seems like you’ve intentionally kept the scope small. Can you talk about that impulse?
HB: Scope-wise, for the majority of the book the scope is super small, particularly in that there is no backstory. You don’t really know much outside. You may hear some drunken blunders at a party or foot-in-mouth disease stuff that is haunting her. I think is Millie is spending the whole book sort of having a temper tantrum at the idea of transformation and happy ending, stomping her feet like Rumpelstiltskin. “I don’t want to do this but I’ll do this to show you it won’t work.” To give the book a happy ending or some sort of transformation would undo the flavor of the book, if that makes sense.
“It’s sort of like I have sympathy with the text more than sympathy with the characters.”
CH: If you know everything about these characters and you know the worst sides of them. Can you still be sympathetic to their plight?
HB: I don’t know how much sympathy I feel towards Jacques. I like reading him but it’s not so much about sympathy for me.
CH: I feel more sympathetic for Molloy.
HB: He’s just kind of there. I love the part in the second half where there are two pages where every fifth sentence starts with “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s . . . ” It’s sort of like I have sympathy with the text more than sympathy with the characters. It makes me feel like how I am too, taken to the extreme. Just because I’m a person reacting to the world, there’s a certain way my brain works. Obviously, I’m not like these characters, but it’s not always about that.
The themed drink recipe: