EVERYTHING YOU KNOW by Zoe Heller

Willy Muller is a 55-year-old antihero,  a hack journalist, absent father, convicted murderer, and all-around jerk who must come to terms with his past when his teenage daughter Sadie commits suicide. Muller became estranged from Sadie and her older sister, Sophie, when he was imprisoned for murdering his wife and their mother, Oona.

After being released on appeal, out of a job and desperate for cash, Muller wrote To Have and To Hold, a lurid confessional novel about his marriage and his wife’s death. The book’s publication earned him the scorn of friends and family, and Muller fled England for Los Angeles, leaving his two rebellious, emotionally damaged teenage daughters and pursuing a life of feeble ghostwriting and shallow society.

The novel opens with Muller recuperating from a heart attack and reevaluating his life with the help of a box of Sadie’s diaries, sent to him after her death. Reading the words of his ill-fated daughter, he can no longer deceive himself about his sorry behavior.

Sounds like a real downer, right?   Well, yes and no.  You can get annoyed at the whiny, entitled tone of Willy, but all the time you know that he knows that he is a sh*t, and that even if he feels sorry for himself, he also feels he deserves it.

Willy is Everyman, really.  Some good, some bad, some neurotic, some introspective, some self-delusional, some honest with oneself.

The title comes from this passage:

Once, when we were on our honeymoon and all this anguish was ahead of us, we overheard an elderly Jewish couple bickering in one of the corridors of the Algonquin.  This old codger, with this nylon slacks pulled up to his tits, was giving his wife a hard time for leading him the wrong way to the elevator.  “Everything you know!” he kept muttering sarcastically.  “Everything you know!” I told you it was the other way already, but you wouldn’t listen to me.  Oh, no, everything you know!”

Yeah, we think we know everything, don’t we.  We each of us thinks we always know best.  And sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t.

If you need some advice on being lonely
If you need a little help in feeling blue
If you need some advice on how to cry all night
Come to me, I’m the man with the blues.

I’m the man with 100,000 heartaches
And I’ve got most any color of the blues
So if you need a little shove in fouling up in love
Come to me, I’m the man with the blues.

—— Willie Nelson, ‘Everything You know’

 

 

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