There are two friends at the center of Victoria Hetherington’s I Have to Tell You: Grace Kim Bradley and Sherene Marie Arsenault, two early twenties women living in Toronto. Grace is somewhat shy (and damaged), but becoming increasingly embittered up with people. Sherene seems desperate to pull people toward her, and then snarkily punish them when they are drawn in. She also has a thing for cocaine (damaged in her own way, though everyone in the book seems to be, just like in real life) and an interestingly close yet snarky relationship with Grace:
One night, over wine, she tells him all about growing up poor, about her eating disorder, her escalating drug use, her relationship with Sherene. He is patient and kind, he listens carefully. Flushed with wine she feels interesting and strong, a survivor-woman. She feels elevated, like he’s gazing up at her through a window; he is grateful for her confessions, he urges her for more. He carries her to his big, beautiful bed to make love to her and halfway through he tells her he loves her.
Sherene is dubious.
“He told you he loves you? After two weeks? Isn’t he supposed to be really smart? He doesn’t mean it.”
“Why can’t you be happy for me?”
“Because at best, it means he wants to dominate you completely – the you you, you understand, I don’t mean just sexually – and furthermore, he wants to take all the shortcuts to do it. A man saying ‘I love you’ when he doesn’t really mean it is cruel. It’s a totalizing and consuming statement, and women don’t have much subjectivity in our society as it is.”
Then we get into other characters like Graham, who used to date Sherene until Sherene decided he was too much of a boy and is now in love with Grace. Then, of course, Sherene wants Graham again. Not being able to get and reject Graham again, though she doesn’t think it that way, Sherene goes for an older coworker of his…who vacillates between being in love with Sherene and yet another person.
Obviously, this is a ‘it’s complicated’ situation.
I found I Have to Tell You to be an interesting examination of the struggle between individuality and the need for connection. Relationships, dreams, trying to come to terms with demons of the past and fears over those yet to come. It’s deft at the way it weaves in and out of characters, moving in and out of character minds, diary notes:
– It hurt so much & I cried whole time
– he didn’t wash the blood from his sheets for months
– Lived w/father in dark basement ‘apartment,’ worked 1-2 shifts at all-day
breakfast place (pre-recession obv., no way he could get job now)
– Remember thinking: if I ended up like him, my parents would kill me/die of
– I would fake sick days to go & visit him at restaurant
G. K. Bradley to me
April 23 (2 hours ago)
I left Jordan today, for good. He hit me. I left thinking, I want to resist like you
do, leave evidence of my presence like you do – my brave best friend – leave evidence of
the unspooling, quick-melting specificity of today. Where was I? Where are you?
02:01:16: craigslist toronto secretary jobs
02:11:12: craigslist toronto sex gigs
02:17:02: craigslist toronto missed connections redhead girl may 27
02:20:12: toronto jobs with masters degree
02:25:16: 24 yr old woman masters degree successful or no
02:25:56: loneliness 1+ time per week
02:53:17: cocaine hallucinations
to show us both individual struggles and the way the good and less good in people spreads from person to person through social connections. I Have to Tell You is complex, but not in a way that hinders reading…more in a way that enhances it. I was intrigued, and engaged.