In her dark, comedic novel, Patty Yumi Cottrell writes her debut contemporary noir novel that will stand the test of time. Helen Moran, a 32-year-old adoptive Korean, struggles with alienation. She lives in New York, the city that never sleeps, works as a troubled youth counselor and is on the brink of homelessness when she receives a phone call that changes everything. The first chapter opens with a bleak and troublesome event that takes place. Helen learns that her adoptive brother, has committed suicide without rhyme or reason.
After learning of her adoptive brother’s death, Helen begins to have an existential crisis where she questions everything, even her own existence. It is in this moment of clarity that she decides to go home. She buys a one-way ticket to Milwaukee, not only for the funeral, but to start an investigation of her own to figure out why her adoptive brother committed suicide. The ever-illuminating question of “why?” haunts her day-in and day-out.
Helen’s journey in Milwaukee becomes more complex. She takes the reader on this metaphysical investigation where she hunts for answers to why her adoptive brother killed himself, confronts her own identity and role as a grief counselor and questions why she is the only one who “listened to the troubled people and treated them as peers instead of minions?” All the while smoking a doobie with teens whom she cannot identify no matter how hard she tries.
Cottrell writes stark humor that helps the protagonist come to understand her own self-identity and cope with a loss that was surprising to all in her family. The reader will fight wanting to empathize with Helen, but at times is unable to. Other times the reader will yell “yes!” in a gratuitous, comradery manner. Cottrell’s writing is distinctive with a Pynchon-esque prose.
The story is told in a first-person narrative so that the reader feels completely immersed in the events taking place. Cottrell takes on the perspective of the privileged and downtrodden through the view of Helen Moran, while bringing about the question: “How am I supposed to live with that?” This book is fierce, tragically comedic and helps define what it means to be alive.