When it comes to hitting rock bottom, Joshua Max Feldman is a deft recording angel. Both in his first novel, The Book of Jonah, and now again in Start Without Me, Feldman shines a loving and unsparing light on ordinary persons at the worst moments of their lives.
Adam turned to the bottle after his career as a rock musician spiraled, after his beloved partner Johanna in the band lost her mind, after he realized he’d been chasing the wrong dream. A recovering alcoholic is still an alcoholic, and Adam can barely endure the pressure of a Thanksgiving family reunion. This is where the novel opens, zooming in on Adam in the middle of the nightmare, camped out on a bed in the basement of his childhood home, barely able to face the “music” of his family’s crushing pity, and their even more crushing hope for him.
Marissa slept with an old flame she met on a flight she was working. Being a flight attendant wasn’t something she’d planned on, any more than being unfaithful to her husband, any more than the terrible weight of feeling constantly inadequate as a wife, a daughter-in-law, a human being. Now she’s pregnant with the other man’s child. Now she’s on her guilty way to her in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving, barely able to face the “music” of his family’s crushing contempt, and their even more crushing kindness towards her.
This is the day Marissa and Adam, total strangers, meet at the restaurant of a hotel lobby near the airport. They have nothing in common except for their despair and their inability to confront their own enormous predicaments. Beware! These two lost souls do not redeem each other. In Feldman’s hands, life is too true and too weird for such a happy ending.
With consummate compassion, Feldman takes note of every awkward movement of their unlikely, painful, comical and consequentially graceful Thanksgiving together.