Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life (Zarah Butcher-McCunnigle, Giramondo)
‘I’m shopping local this year and I’m single,’ says the narrator of this novella. ‘I keep thinking “please kill me” and “back to basics.”’ Written in a fragmentary form reminiscent of Renata Adler, Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life, Zarah Butcher-McCunningle’s deadpan fiction debut, documents an unnamed young protagonist’s listless existence in an unnamed city. The book’s droll dispatches from daily life under late capitalism recall the writing of the author’s New Zealand contemporaries Hera Lindsay Bird and Eamonn Marra, but Butcher-McCunnigle’s distinctive voice is her own. Physically incapable of having a full-time job because of her disability, the unmotivated writer–narrator is also hyperaware that work is a pointless exercise designed to keep normal people distracted. Unable and unwilling to find work, she observes her own behaviour: trawling Tinder for dates, shopping online for items she can’t afford, attracting unsolicited life advice from various interlocutors. Anyone who has recently been through, or is currently undergoing, a quarter-life crisis will recognise themselves in the protagonist’s actions. Other characters are less sympathetic: a doctor and the narrator’s own mother both wonder, unhelpfully, why she hasn’t considered starting her own business. Later, when our hero does find a job, another doctor scolds her for missing an appointment because of work. Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life is a grimly funny rendering of the absurdity of life in the 2020s—an era in which, with nowhere to turn, the hopeless millennial turns in on herself.
Kelsey Oldham is an editor at Books+Publishing.