Jillian by Halle Butler comes out today!
This debut novel is amazing. It’s like a train wreck of a drunken rant delivered by an embittered twenty-something woman standing outside a skeevy party. Megan, the main character, is probably a terrible human being, but instead of dealing with herself, she spends all her time silently judging and hating her co-worker, Jillian. Jillian is Megan’s complete opposite: a downtrodden single mother who insists on staying relentlessly, infuriatingly upbeat. They’re both miserable in separate ways. And Butler contrasts their miseries in a way that is consistently, inventively hilarious.
Jillian is a downer and a joy. Butler deserves all the credit that Tao Lin usually gets for nailing the flat, disaffected voice of young people today. With Jillian she proves that if you think, as Sartre wrote, that hell is other people, then other people think hell is you.
We asked the author one question.
Fiction Advocate: How are you celebrating the publication of Jillian?
Halle Butler: To celebrate the release of my first novel Jillian, I’m going to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and take a shot of wheatgrass juice. Then, I will fully disrobe and do 60—maybe 100—reps with my 20 lb. hand weights in front of a standing full-length mirror that I keep in the center of my living room. I plan to shower and then wake up my boyfriend and show him my baby photos—of which I have 8 albums. We’ve already talked about what he’s going to say to me about the photos, particularly the series involving me and my first kitten, Pippi. After that, I will take 17 vitamins (breakfast) and get in a cab to work my temp job downtown, probably forgetting my wallet and begging the driver not to “arrest” me, but then when I exit the cab, I will smirk and chuckle to myself, adjust my pencil skirt, and walk towards the lobby of the asset management firm where I redirect phone calls.
The workday will go by as usual.
In the evening, I’ll go out to a restaurant with my boyfriend (again) but this isn’t too “celebratory” on its own, since we go out to eat almost every night. To make it special, I’ll intentionally eat too much food, forcing myself to become sick, and then I’ll demand a discount on my meal. I plan to tip using real money, but I also plan to enclose the cash tip in a signed copy of Jillian.
Next, all of my four friends will come over for a little party, where I will make a little speech while they sit in a row on my sofa, gazing up at me, overhead light blaring. I know that making a speech is very self-indulgent, and that probably someone else should make the speech for me while I sit on the couch, but I like to make speeches, and I will have had several scotch and sodas and maybe some Pernod at that point, and it’s my special day, so I plan on making the speech.
I’m planning to say something intense and aggressive like, “I could have been a glassblower, do you know what I mean by that? It means that everything I touch turns into fucking gold. A novel, sure, why not? No big fucking deal for me! I wrote it in one day when I was 10 years old, what the fuck were you doing then, going to grad school? Have you ever even heard of Publishers Weekly?” etc, etc. Then, sitting on one of my guests’ laps, faces inches apart, I’ll say, giggling, “Do you want to test your strength against mine? You think you can come to my home on my special day and treat me like this? I bet you feel pretty sorry about a lot of things now, don’t you? How about a nice, sweet little kiss to put all of this to rest? You want to be my friend now that I have all of this power, don’t you?”
After my speech, I’ll put a mop on my head and sing German torch songs like Marlene Dietrich until I pass out crying on the floor.