This is a story about friends, art, burnout, and the crushing domination of Corporate America. Also, love. Eventually.
From orgasmic meditation to orgasm-less sex, The Roxy Letters, set in a wasteland of millennial angst of the purest kind, manages to be alternately outrageously funny and devastatingly cutting.
Through Roxy’s letters to her ex, Everett, who, fair warning, doesn’t have as much of a voice in the story as I expected based on the blurb, we meander through her daily life, guided by the voice of Jayme Mattler, whose narration brings an extra level of emotion to the text.
Roxy is an artist. A broke, starving artist, who hasn’t created anything in months, all because of a heart-breaking, baby-wanting, concept-stealing mistake she just can’t seem to get over. When she sees the faux-feminist soul-sucking corporate behemoth that is Lululemon supplants her beloved Waterloo Video, she’s outraged enough that her next actions catalyze the majority of the events to come.
Roxy is also a glorious main character. She’s likable in her utter normality, her pettiness, and her passion. Throughout the novel, I grew more and more attached to her snappy, eager, and sometimes mopey tone. I love her character most for its imperfection. She lives life in a strange balance of being held accountable for her actions, which can be uncommon, while also being privileged and lucky enough that the novel stays light most of the time.
The other characters, of which there are many, are developed to varying degrees, some in ways that end up surprising. Roxy has a tendency to rack up enemies (perceived or real), but as we get to know the other characters through Roxy’s perspective, we also witness her shifts in thinking with regard to them. We also get to see her self-corrections in “real-time”, and how she grows from there through her perceptions of others. Every character has an element of absurdity to them that lends to the constant hilarity of the plot and nicely complements Roxy’s own raucous narration.
The plot of The Roxy Letters, while nonlinear, is woven so that each plot element is brought up at a later time, and usually continues to be brought up until the main character has found peace with that person or object or action and has grown. This is a technique that strengthens character development and the plot while mirroring real life in the way that we tend to focus on the present, and everything that follows has an effect of sneaking up on us.
The havoc wreaked on my mental state by this novel led me to this article by an incredible Buzzfeed News Reporter, which painstakingly documents the raising of the Millenial generation. It documents how, overworked and saddled with debt, they are collectively struggling to “hustle” and “grind” their way out of an anti-human hellscape of an economy with low wage jobs and without basic benefits.
At first, I wondered why I, as a member of Gen Z (Note: I am partial to the Deltas, the Clean Up Crew, or simply Doomed, if you’re feeling particularly morose, but call us what you will) was so touched by the manifestation of these realities. Upon finishing the book, I now know, in the name of Roxy’s radical honesty and emotional openness, I admit I am scared of what this means for our future.
I’m scared that our generation, too, has been strangled by expectation, from within and without. I’m scared that we will continue to beg corporations for crumbs, that our creativity has been forced to take a back seat to practicality and stability and molding ourselves into model workers. I’m scared that artists like Roxy, people who add so much life and beauty to our world, will continue to be undervalued in their contribution to society.
I am scared, and this book helped me recognize and accept that, but I’m also a bit hopeful. After all, there are always caring friendships and zany hijinks to drown out the existential dread.
The universal truths and magnetic characters in The Roxy Letters were an unexpected joy to absorb in these precarious times. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed out loud and felt such catharsis from a book. I hope, reader, that you will consider giving it a chance yourself.