Tag Archives: australia

GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND: THE MISADVENTURES OF TWO (ALMOST) ADULTS by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale

I have taken an unplanned blogging break this month. I was strong going into the new year, with 3 books finished in the first 10 days of January. And then… nothing. No posts and minimal reading. I blame a combination of work, snow, sick kids, ballet rehearsals and travel. But I am back, with a review. Thanks for bearing with me!

I just finished a book that I learned about in my college alumni magazine: Graduates in Wonderland by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale. It is a modern day epistolary memoir consisting of email correspondence back and forth between Jess and Rachel, recent Brown graduates who are many thousands of miles apart but keeping their friendship alive and well online. Jess moves to China after graduation, somewhat impulsively, where she hangs out in the Beijing expat scene with another Brown classmate and finds work at a magazine. Rachel moves to NY, like many others from her class, and works in a gallery for a self-absorbed boss who causes her so much anxiety that she needs therapy.

Over the next few years, we follow Jess and Rachel’s professional and personal adventures. Rachel moves to Paris to pursue a master’s in film. Jess leaves a promising editing career to follow a boyfriend – again impulsively – to Australia. But the constant through all of this change is the honest, supportive relationship that Jess and Rachel maintain over email. They make reference to phone calls, but all the good stuff makes it into the emails.

There’s classic twentysomething fare here – the sense that everyone else has a life, but you don’t; the paralyzing fear of making the wrong career choice; wondering if you’ve found The One, and if you’re ready for that; and the feeling of being adrift without a geographic home base. Add in the language barriers and physical distance inherent in living abroad, and it’s easy to see why Rachel and Jess’ friendship was so important to them. They were living similar lives, only many, many time zones apart.

I enjoyed Graduates in Wonderland. There wasn’t much Brown in the book – they had already graduated, of course – but the book really brought me back to my early 20s, when I was dealing with some of the same issues. A friend of mine recently presented me with a letter (!) I had written him in 1993 when he was living abroad after graduation. It was not dissimilar to the emails in Graduates in Wonderland. I just wish I had more of those letters – email was not widespread in the early 90s!

I recommend Graduates in Wonderland to fans of epistolary memoirs and anyone who can relate to – and wants to re-experience – the uncertainty and excitement of starting out in the world.

THE FULL RIDICULOUS by Mark Lamprell


The Full Ridiculous by Mark Lamprell is about a Australian man named Michael O’Dell who is hit by a car while he is out running one afternoon. He survives the accident, and is initially enormously relieved and grateful. Shortly after the accident, however, bad things start happening to him, one after another. His 14 year-old daughter is suspended from school for getting into a fight with another girl. He finds drugs in his son’s bedroom. His literary agent tells him that there is no market for the book he’s writing. As Michael’s misfortunes pile on, he slides deeper into despair, exacerbated by PTSD from the accident. “The good part of my life is over,” he thinks, “and the bad part has begun.”

Sounds like a real downer, I know. But it isn’t! The Full Ridiculous is actually a touching and darkly funny book about family, parenthood and the imperfections of love in middle age. Things eventually turn around for Michael (after a very low nadir), and by the end he finally understands how lucky he is – and was, even before the accident. Lamprell is a funny writer and The Full Ridiculous is full of astute observations about modern, middle class life. The relationships here aren’t perfect, which is the point – if we measure success by perfection, we’re all going to lose.

One of my favorite parts of this book came at the end, when Michael was hanging out with his wife. They went to the nursery to buy a bunch of vegetable plants, and spent time together planting them in their yard. In a perfect world, the plants would have thrived and they would have had a romantic, life-affirming moment together in the garden. In reality, the plants died a few weeks later because no one watered them before going on vacation, and a playful garden mud-fight ended when his wife got dirt under her contact lens and had to go inside to wash out her eye. But it was all good. That’s Lamprell’s point – this is how we live and thrive – so enjoy it and be content with it.

The Full Ridiculous was a poignant, funny, enjoyable read, and one that I expect will be memorable. It comes out on May 13, 2014, from Soft Skull Press.

Depressing-o-meter: A surprising 6.5 out of 10.