In her follow-up to her 2016 debut novel, We’re All in This Together, Amy Jones showcases her winning blend of sardonic humour and melancholy in a story about two young women who are both victims of their own public notoriety.
Twenty-two-year old Mags is the flame-haired, hot-tempered lead singer of a Toronto-based indie rock band on a sudden rise to fame following the death of the band’s bassist (who was also Mags’s husband). Now 18, Ava is the long-suffering, reluctant star of a series of reality TV shows about a pair of gay dads who move their adopted brood from New York City to a dilapidated B&B in rural Nova Scotia. When the two women’s impressively self-destructive trajectories collide, the result is a spontaneous and intense supernova friendship that results in equal parts comfort and rage-filled collusion.
Jones is a wicked prose stylist who doesn’t shy away from presenting the absolute worst sides of her characters. Mags is a dynamo most of the time, barrelling through life in a booze-and-drug-filled haze that dulls the pain of Sam’s death but prevents her from actually beginning to heal. Ava comes across as a petulant brat taking her disdain out on the rest of the world, and her family in particular. But Jones also reveals the acute pain and vulnerability Mags and Ava feel due to the untenable situations they find themselves in. (Ava, for example, is carrying on a secret affair with a married, much older TV producer.)
Sense of place is also paramount, whether it’s a dingy pub in small-town Nova Scotia or a hipster bar in Toronto. Jones focuses on the people more than the physical details of her settings: at an appearance in a crappy East Coast dive, Mags notes that it’s the middle-aged men she has to be careful of, with their sense of entitlement and anger over their own lost potential. “The bros she could handle, with their short-sleeved plaid shirts and cargo shorts, their Canadian flag tattoos, a sea of baby faces and beer breath hopping up and down in front of the stage yell-singing along to ‘Home for a Rest’ as they sloshed their drinks into the cleavage of their tank-topped, ombré-haired girlfriends.”
That Jones is able to employ such perfectly calibrated humorous observation while unfolding a tale that is ultimately a tragedy is laudable. Both Mags and Ava are a bit over the top, but so is the whole story, which is precisely why it works so well. There is no subtlety here – part of the joy of Jones’s writing is her complete commitment to calling it like it is, whether she’s parodying troll culture in the online comments peppered throughout the book or unapologetically portraying a female friendship that doesn’t include even a whiff of girl-on-girl attraction, despite the two characters routinely getting drunk, stoned, naked, or all three at the same time.
This commitment extends to Jones’s skewering of society’s obsession with celebrity and the rampant misogyny, both online and in person, encountered in particular by Mags. Her interview with a white, middle-aged male reporter is ruthless in calling out a pervasive style of media coverage that seems to apply only to women.
A hugely entertaining sophomore novel, Every Little Piece of Me makes you think and makes you laugh. Which is sometimes exactly what you need.