All This Could Be Yours is a quietly angry novel, a story of three people who are so broken that they’ve resigned themselves to never finding peace. They get on with their lives but keep a distance from each other, knowing that to start a conversation about the brutalities that have been inflicted upon them is to begin an argument that will have no resolution. One of the great frustrations of the book is that Victor spends most of it lying in a coma, unable to hear the bitter accusations that finally come his way. There is no moment of confrontation, no purgative scene that might allow the reader to feel that he is being punished for his behaviour. It’s a brave tactic on the author’s part, choosing authenticity over catharsis. After all, this, more often than not, is life.
Attenberg weaves her narrative with a scintillating and often wry prose; her love for her characters, and her keen interest in their joys and longings, never fails to shine through. Often she sets scenes with the terseness of a screenplay, but periodically she plunges into rich description, as when Twyla, crying, looks in the mirror and notices “lips in distress, cracked at the edges, only half the color left behind, the other half disappeared, god knows where, absorbed into skin, into air, into grief”.
In its opening pages, 73-year-old Victor Tuchman has a heart attack. His wife, Barbra, seems relieved. Their grown-up daughter, Alex, responds to her mother’s summons, but perhaps only to ensure that her father does not get away from this one. Victor, we soon learn, was a bad man, a criminal, but also a persuasive monster. Told from several perspectives, sometimes Attenberg pans out too far; this devastating dissection of the impact of bad parenting is at its best when its clever, skilled author keeps her subjects up close.
Attenberg’s prose is nimble, chopping from character to character — even briefly to minor roles, like the shop assistant who encounters Twyla buying lipsticks to ward off an emotional breakdown. Sometimes she pivots to address the reader. “Imagine you met a girl, a beautiful girl — and she was sweet and honest and healthy and clear minded,” she writes about Gary’s relationship with Twyla.It’s a trick she has employed before and it makes the reader feel more therapist than passive observer. In a tale of a family all desperately clamouring to be heard and understood, this feels appropriate.