Emily Gould’s book of personal essays, And the Heart Says Whatever, named after a Fleetwood Mac lyric, chronicles her post-collegiate life in 21st century America. From hazy high school memories in her hometown of Spring Field, Maryland, to her admittance to Kenyon College in Ohio, and finally to New York City — where Gould assumes the role of bartender, editorial assistant, and Gawker editor.
From the beginning, Gould establishes a voice of disheartened melancholy. Having been denied to all colleges she hoped to attend — a shock considering she deems herself a star pupil – she finds herself between endless rows of corn at Kenyon College, a back-up school she had never even visited, let alone planned on attending. She dates around and steers clear of Kenyon’s Freddy Frat culture, eventually “dropping out” by way of study abroad to the New School.
Gould works at various jobs she despises, many of which involve her serving overpriced something-or-other and trying to keep a straight face when customers react unpleasantly. She takes her first “grown-up” job at a publishing house, delighted at first by the adulthood markers of a desk, a phone, and paperweights. Slowly, however, she begins to see books as the commodity her day job requires — a depressing realization for an English major. Her many hours pushing paper, though, afford her ample time to peruse Gawker at her desk and she quickly becomes obsessed with the site; a perfect opportunity arises when the editor leaves, allowing her to interview for the position.
Among Gould’s literary pursuits is her troubled relationship with her boyfriend of six years. Gould recalls their fights over infidelity, drug use, and band practice between moments of reflection on her bed, offering strained, seemingly scripted quotes from their fights in an effort to transport the reader.
Gould has produced a narrative with which anyone, particularly any young woman, who has ventured out to make a New York life can identify with and understand: the thankless jobs, the horrible apartments, the ill-advised adoption of a pet, depression, and a general feeling of post-college angst. However, the weakness of And The Heart Says Whatever lies in Gould’s inability to write about any of these experiences with originality or depth. The nondescript nature of the book, as reflected in the title, creates a lukewarm text that could serve as anyone’s story, whether that be the authoress in question, or any other twenty-something young woman you might run into on the G line. Gould’s observations of her experiences are subtle, but not deeply expressed.
She speaks often from a place of tired dejection — a desire to be special, noticed, and talented that has long since deflated in late night cabs, Williamsburg-bound subway cars, and dive bars. And although Gould’s exhausted narrative may be a stylistic choice, her fatigued retelling still lacks the poignancy to create a truly insightful look at being young, broke, and female in New York.
Standing out from the ten tepid essays in And The Heart Says Whatever is one that shows a little more promise than the others. In “Claudine,” Gould recalls an on-again off-again friendship with a girl she knew from junior high school. Gould lovingly recalls their “subculture of two” as she explores, in retrospect, the delicate and tenuous nature that binds the two eleven-year-old girls together. She writes of sharing mixed tapes and music preferences, considering one another “cool” before Claudine begins to drift into even cooler circles. Gould balances the shifting time-line well as their relationship becomes strained into adulthood; both girls become roommates in New York and eventually drift apart.
“Claudine” carries Gould’s melancholy narrative a bit farther than the other essays, primarily because within her indifferent tone is a tinge of sympathy that comes across as artfully restrained. Gould’s distant voice works well in recalling this particular relationship, as her memories fuse with the disappointment of losing someone she once knew.
All in all, And The Heart Says Whatever is a perfunctory collection of essays about young adulthood with one unlikely gem among a wash of mediocrity.
To read more about Emily Gould, click here.