All The Lonely People — Jess Riley
Where do they all come from? In All The Lonely People, main character Jaime, who has lost her mother to cancer, realizes she and her siblings do not like each other: “We weren’t that family. We didn’t organize rummage sales together, we didn’t send one another birthday cards . . . We carried entire bowls of chips on our shoulders, with dip.”
Even her sweet husband gets the short end of the stick: “There will come a day when the idea of having sex feels like going to the gym—you know you should do it even when you don’t feel like it, you’re usually glad you did afterwards.”
A classic fight at Thanksgiving dinner leads Jaime to take drastic measures. She takes out an ad on Craigslist for a new family for Christmas, creating a list of demands for ideal relatives. Number seven? “Please be funny and don’t take yourself seriously.”
Set in Wisconsin, all the lonely people who answer the ad first meet for Christmas dinner, bringing their own hurts and hearts to the table. Jaime creates a new bond with this ragtag group of outsiders, as she realizes she is not blameless in manufacturing disappointment. As the story plays out over Jaime’s least favorite time of year, “. . .that frozen, dreary long night that lasts from January to March . . .” all the lonely people try to figure out where they all belong.
Author Jess Riley pulls off a refreshing look at the vulnerability of family dynamics, with all the charm and fierceness of a Midwesterner “shut in during a three-day howler piling snowdrifts against the front door.” Underneath the very funny dialogue that reveals the human absurdities of the loneliness and dysfunction hiding in families, Jamie gets a chance to look for tribal connections through her niece Hannah, the superglue of the family. Quirky characters with insights about life and love make me wish for more MidwestLit!
Bonus: Cool author alert! The virtual Jess Riley is as charming as you would suspect by reading her book.