The XX Factor

Book of the Week: This Is Where We Live

At the beginning of Janelle Brown’s enthralling new novel, This Is Where We Live , the protagonists-a chic, creative Los Angeles couple named Claudia and Jeremy-are living a boho fantasy life in a gentrifying neighborhood. The indie film Claudia wrote and directed has just received rave reviews in Entertainment Weekly and the trade press; Jeremy’s the former lead singer of a successful band called the Invisible Spot, now trying to get a new band off the ground. They are attractive and young and creative, and everything appears to be just peachy in their cozy bungalow, which, according to real-estate parlance, is “nestled in a picturesque setting w/ stunning canyon views.”

That is, until it swiftly falls apart. Claudia’s film bombs at the box office, Jeremy’s unhinged and seductive ex-girlfriend, Aoki, comes back into his life, and, due to the vagaries of the California housing market, the pair is on the verge of losing that bungalow with its stunning canyon views. This Is Where We Live explores many of the same issues as Brown’s first novel All I Ever Wanted Was Everything -most notably, how to stay true to your creative (and moral) self when the pressure to make a lot of money is ever-present. (I interviewed Brown for Jezebel about some of these issues when AIEWWE came out .) The stress of maintaining a romantic relationship in this context is well-rendered, especially as Claudia is always practical and Jeremy is much more of a dreamer. I found myself wanting to shake Jeremy’s fictional shoulders from time to time, wishing that he would just grow the hell up and live up to the adult responsibilities to which he had committed.

The mounting financial and romantic strains placeed on Claudia and Jeremy make for a riveting book-Brown rachets up the anxiety as the book moves along. There are moments of unevenness in the pacing, but ultimately the book ends with a conclusion that is satisfying, but not pat. Brown is at her best when she is exploring the neurosis of the ambitious artist, and many who are struggling to make a life in a creative profession will find This Is Where We Live to be almost uncomfortably familiar.