All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (Hardcover)
Spiegel & Grau, 9780385524018, 416pp.
Publication Date: May 27, 2008
A smart, comic page-turner about a Silicon Valley family in free fall over the course of one eventful summer.
When Paul Miller’s pharmaceutical company goes public, making his family IPO millionaires, his wife, Janice, is sure this is the windfall she’s been waiting years for — until she learns, via messengered letter, that her husband is divorcing her (for her tennis partner!) and cutting her out of the new fortune. Meanwhile, four hundred miles south in Los Angeles, the Millers’ older daughter, Margaret, has been dumped by her newly famous actor boyfriend and left in the lurch by an investor who promised to revive her fledgling post-feminist magazine, Snatch. Sliding toward bankruptcy and dogged by creditors, she flees for home where her younger sister Lizzie, 14, is struggling with problems of her own. Formerly chubby, Lizzie has been enjoying her newfound popularity until some bathroom graffiti alerts her to the fact that she’s become the school slut.
The three Miller women retreat behind the walls of their Georgian colonial to wage battle with divorce lawyers, debt collectors, drug-dealing pool boys, mean girls, country club ladies, evangelical neighbors, their own demons, and each other, and in the process they become achingly sympathetic characters we can’t help but root for, even as the world they live in epitomizes everything wrong with the American Dream. Exhilarating, addictive, and superbly accomplished, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything crackles with energy and intelligence and marks the debut of a knowing and very funny novelist, wise beyond her years.
Praise For All We Ever Wanted Was Everything…
Praise for All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
"Brown's winning debut teaches a hopeful truth: Sometimes, just as you're starting to drown, things fall back into place."
“All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is as addictive as the meth on which Janice gets quickly hooked...Its unapologetically soapy mix of teen sex, quarter-life crisis, food porn and mean-girl politics makes it, like Santa Rita itself, perfect for June: a summery, old-fashioned page turner."
"A sinful treat."
–Santa Cruz Sentinel
"Janelle Brown expertly takes the social temperature of those gated communities exclusive to new money and finds a chill that inhabits the growth of family life...[a] beauty of a book"
–New York Daily News
"A killer summer read."
“A withering Silicon Valley satire . . . From the ashes of their California dreams, the three [women] must learn to talk to each other instead of past each other, and build a new, slightly more realistic existence—but not without doses of revenge and hilarity. Brown's hip narrative reads like a sharp, contemporary twist on The Corrections.”
“A razor-sharp critique of the absurd expectations that, these days, have come to stand for ambition, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is wrenching, riveting, and still manages to be great fun. This is a wise, intimate chronicle of one family’s struggle to take off their masks and live in the place they most feared: the real, imperfect world.”
—Meghan Daum, author of The Quality of Life Report
“Rarely does a first novelist write with such confidence and grace. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a marvelous book.”
—Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
“Janelle Brown's beautiful debut explores the tiny fissures in our lives and what happens when those fissures erupt into chasms. Excruciatingly funny, unrelentingly painful—this extraordinary book gives us something only the best novels can: a glimpse of what it means to be human.”
—Katherine Taylor, author of Rules for Saying Goodbye
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Discuss the epigraph by J.M. Barrie and its meaning in the novel. How are the notions of failure, success, and personal fulfillment examined in the book and are they complicated by the expectations of family, culture, and society?
- This novel is centered on three very different women. Explore the concepts of femininity and feminism in the novel and the ways in which Janice, Margaret, and Lizzie reinforce and challenge those models.
- Location plays an important part in the novel, magnifying and thwarting characters' aspirations. Examine the setting in this novel. What do Santa Rita, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and California itself symbolize? Could this story take place anywhere else?
- In the first chapter, Janice dreams of buying a piece of art with her new fortune—"she covets a Van Gogh, one like those she saw a few years back. The violence of the paint applied in furious layers so thick that she could see the impressions of the artist's fingers, clawing at the canvas—she felt like she'd been slapped. The color! As vivid as a hallucination." Is this object of desire an obvious one for Janice? What can we glean about Janice from her choice of a Van Gogh, in particular?
- After he requests a divorce, Paul tells Janice, "You don't need me. You've never needed anyone in your life." Do you find there is truth in Paul's statement? Does Janice come across as completely self-reliant or hopelessly dependent? Or is Paul projecting his own feelings onto her, trying to justify leaving the marriage?
- At the beginning of the novel, Janice and Margaret seem to be antagonists. Does this remain the case throughout the story? By the end of the novel, do Janice and Margaret merely understand each other, or have they grown more alike?
- At first glance, Bart seems like an odd choice for Margaret's affection. Why does she fall for him and how does she reconcile her love with her neo-feminist principles?
- The Miller women cope with their predicaments through various means—the accumulation of material objects, money, drugs, religion, ambition, and sex. How effective are these ultimately and what do they have in common?
- After an unsuccessful and desperate attempt to score it, Janice races to the hospital to meet Margaret and Lizzie, who has just been released from the emergency room. The text reads, "For the first time in longer than she can recall, [Janice] feels happy." In many ways, this is such a low moment; explain what the author means.
- All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a satire. What or who is the object of the author's critique? Some early readers likened the novel to the film "American Beauty." Do you see a similarity between the two works? What is Janelle Brown's message to her readers?