Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication date: January 31st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Debut, Fiction
Shortly after we meet Madeline it becomes clear that she is dead and that I Liked My Life is going to be one of those books about a dead person hovering over the lives of the people they left behind. The good news is that this is not a bad thing. She doesn’t write the novel with much spiritual angst on Maddy’s part—either as to where she is now or why she’s there. Instead, she’s focused on the family she left behind: her husband, Brady, and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Eve. It isn’t until she’s established the characters that Fabiaschi welcomes the elephant who’s been sitting in the corner—Maddy killed herself. Suddenly, the straightforward emotions of sympathy and compassion get tangled and I Liked My Life gains more nuance.
There are other familiar themes in I Liked My Life. One, in the afterlife Maddy is most concerned about finding a new wife and mother for her family and two, in the real world, she’s left behind a journal which, when read by Brady (and sometimes Eve) adds a dimension to her neither of them knew about. The find-a-wife device is fine for the humor it provides but the journal gives welcome insight into Maddy’s life. A woman who may have been happy with her life choices, but still felt constrained by them. And sometimes, just plain tired and unappreciated. For Brady the reading is especially painful
He’s as astounded my priority wasn’t ultimately them as he is horrified to realize his priority was never us.
Thanks to Maddy’s omniscience (being a spirit and all that) the only secrets left are those between the living and for Brady and Eve that includes the crushing guilt both feel. In this way, I Liked My Life is a guilt bomb. Seriously, you will want to hug/buy chocolates for every mother you know. This is not because Fabiaschi bludgeons the reader with it, it’s in the subtle realizations of Brady and Eve that while they loved Maddy dearly, they took her for granted.
For some readers Maddy’s suicide is going to be too serious to lend itself to anything as light as a spirit trying to take care of the family she left behind. Initially, I was one of those readers and felt uncomfortable with not only Maddy’s death but the fact that she was hanging around. You left your life so why wouldn’t you leave your life? Addressing this and the many complex emotions of grieving and life after loss gives the novel balance and means setting aside quick judgments. All of these things combine to mean that while I Liked My Life may sound, on the surface, like something you’ve read before Fabiaschi imbues the novel with a freshness that is touching and gratifying. Now call your mother!