“I am a delicate mist. No one can look at me or touch me or see me. I do not want to be held, which is fine-no one wants to hold me, and even if they did, it wouldn’t help. I am a murmuration, a lightly undulating spray of particles, moving easily around the earth without impacting it. I don’t miss anyone and have never fucked anything up,” (Heisey 286).
Twenty-nine-year-old Maggie is now a divorcee, but she’s fine. Even though she’s broke and her thesis is going nowhere. Or the fact that she’s taking up “adult” hobbies, eating hamburgers at 4AM, while googling and tweeting anything she can think of. But she’s doing really good, actually, especially with the support of her academic advisor Merris, her newly divorced friend Amy, and her active group chat with her friends. Maggie is certain she can beat this divorce, that things aren’t really so bad. Really.
This book was not very good, actually.
I like what Really Good, Actually was trying to do. Heisey was apparently inspired to write the book after her own divorce in her late-twenties and noticed that many divorce literature that existed was marketed towards readers older than her. I had guessed that the book was semiautobiographical considering Maggie was described as looking suspiciously similar to Heisey. Though she explains in an interview with the Toronto Star that she was “still fictionalizing a person and events and I really wanted to get a sense of where this character and I differed and where we crossed over, and just who she was,” so obviously there are differences between Heisey and Maggie (Monica Heisey says divorce in her 20s inspired debut novel ‘Really Good, Actually’). I think it’s important that more stories of divorce exist for younger readers because it is something young couples go through, I just don’t know that this is the novel to do it.
It was at least a hundred pages too long, maybe a hundred and fifty honestly. This could have worked as a much smaller, more condensed novel because there’s a lot of repetition. Maggie is sad about her divorce, Maggie hates herself and is self-deprecating, Maggie is bad to her friends, Maggie tries a hobby and then shits on said hobby, Maggie has a lot of sex, Maggie Googles some things, Maggie fantasizes an ideal version of life that would make everything better. Over and over and over. I have no doubt there is some realism here, I didn’t mind the Google searches, some of the fantasies were cringey but I understood those too. It was just that all of these things were repeated, and it just dragged the whole story down. A shorter book may have made me feel more sympathy for Maggie and may have made me care more for what she was going through.
The only similarities between myself and Maggie are our ages and that we’re white, cisgender Canadians, so I can’t fully relate to her as a character. Maggie clearly has her own issues on top of her divorce that she struggles to come to terms with throughout the book, which of course made her frustrating to follow. I understand that not all protagonists are likable, and I’m all for that but I do think there’s a talent in making an unlikable protagonist semi-likable, like you’re reading and wondering, “Wait, why am I rooting for these toxic behaviours?” If that makes any sense.
I’m Canadian, so this statement might not make any sense to anyone outside of Canada (or possibly Ontario, since I am, unfortunately, an Ontarian who is familiar enough with Toronto) but this novel felt very Toronto, and that isn’t a compliment. There’s a pretention present that just screams the Six, like Maggie and many of the other characters think they’re better or more exciting people because they live in Toronto. Also a lot of bashing on “adult hobbies” like paint and trivia nights (those are fun!). And worse, it’s very millennial. Any millennial stereotype you can think of exists in this book and as a millennial I freaking hated it. Everyone hates millennial’s enough, and I don’t know why Heisey chose to write about one who was basically the poster girl for why you should hate millennials. Maggie complains that life isn’t how it should be for her, that she hates her job, that she has no money when people do help her out way more than she deserves at times.
Shout-out to Amy, Merris, and Maggie’s friend group. I wish I had a group chat that active!
Also, while I’m not a hugely astrological person, Maggie is a Gemini, and I’ve never had any luck getting along with Gemini’s.
Really Good, Actually might be really good to its niche audience of young, millennial, privileged, Torontonian divorcees, but it just wasn’t for me. The writing didn’t stand out, and it really wasn’t all that funny. I really hate disliking Canadian reads, but here we are. Sorry!
Publication: January 17th 2023
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 384 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Humour, Canadian
My Rating: ⛤⛤
Maggie is fine. She’s doing really good, actually. Sure, she’s broke, her graduate thesis on something obscure is going nowhere, and her marriage only lasted 608 days, but at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, Maggie is determined to embrace her new life as a Surprisingly Young Divorcée™.
Now she has time to take up nine hobbies, eat hamburgers at 4 am, and “get back out there” sex-wise. With the support of her tough-loving academic advisor, Merris; her newly divorced friend, Amy; and her group chat (naturally), Maggie barrels through her first year of single life, intermittently dating, occasionally waking up on the floor and asking herself tough questions along the way.