The narrator of Zaina Arafat’s You Exist Too Much is the kind of person who would, in real life, drive me nuts. She sabotages herself. She makes bad decisions about so many things. This novel centers on one of the few good decisions this narrator has made in her hectic life. She decides to go to a month-long retreat to deal with love addiction. Although there are things that happen in this book that made me, as an outside observer, want to shout at the narrator that she’s making another mistake, You Exist Too Much is an interesting dive into the psychological healing process.
The unnamed narrator is the daughter of Palestinians who emigrated to the United States early in the narrator’s life. It’s clear that the narrator loves her mother, Laila, but they have a troubled relationship. Laila is a charming narcissist. She’s more likely to give you a slap or throw something at you as she is to kiss you. The narrator has always sought her mother’s approval, even though anyone else could have told her that this is impossible—especially once the narrator realizes that she is bisexual. The narrator hides so much about herself that it’s warped her psyche. The narrator knows she’s a messed up person but it’s only when she finds the number for The Ledge that she starts to hope that maybe she doesn’t always have to be the kind of girl who destroys her relationships.
We learn most of this backstory in between scenes at The Ledge, a self-help retreat where people with different kinds of addictions gather to meet with counselors and participate in group therapy. Just like addictions to alcohol and drugs, breaking an addiction to love and sex involves deep reflection and a desire to fundamentally change one’s behavior. I learned to appreciate the narrator’s struggle more as I read about her awful mother and her efforts to stop sabotaging her relationships. In the long denouement the follows the narrator’s time at The Ledge, we see her take her first steps in a relationship that might be just as destructive as before. We have to hope that things will be different this time.
You Exist Too Much would be a great read for people who like to take a deeper look into why some people always seem to ruin the good things in their life by chasing fantasies or who can never seem to be honest with the important people in their lives. This book shines a bright light on behaviors that we don’t normally see in fiction because they are un-glamorous and painful. It’s hard to watch someone make the same mistakes over and over again, even when its fiction.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.