They Is Us

by Debbie Stoller

Tama Janowitz first lit up the literary world with her short-story collection Slaves of New York, which humorously depicted the lives of penniless bohemians living in Manhattan.

Janowitz’s newest effort shows a dramatic turn toward dystopian science fiction, mixing over-the-top wackiness with a bleak futuristic vision. They Is Us is set in suburban New Jersey at an undisclosed date in the future. Life, as one might imagine, has become grim for Americans. Hyperconsumerism and commercialism are rampant; even the president has his own Home Shopping Network show and charges Americans to vote for which country he should bomb next. Water no longer pours out of faucets and showerheads, having instead been replaced with gelatinous globs of hand sanitizer. ~Living in this world are Murielle and her two teenage daughters, the sweet-natured Julie and the blank-eyed beauty Tahnee. Janowitz remains true to her recurring feminist themes and shows this trio struggling against a society that is still patriarchal. While Murielle throws out her slobby and bumbling second husband, her daughters fall prey to lecherous men. One kidnaps Tahnee for his sexual gratification, while Julie is tricked by an attractive mutant man into shooting down an airplane, causing catastrophe. The book is consistently laugh-inducing, with wry references to our current pop-culture terrain (senior citizens in a retirement community belt out Gwen Stefani “classics”). However, the satire is too hollow to allow for an emotional connection. In the end, nothing but misery and demise await the gloomy characters of Janowitz’s work, with little to be found in the way of redemption or perseverance. Still, through her off-the-wall sense of humor, Janowitz successfully critiques the ugly truths of life in America.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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