Sad Janet

Sad Janet

by Lucie Britsch

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Overview

Named one of the Best Books of the Summer by Lit Hub, The Millions, Refinery29, and Hey Alma.

“Hilarious, wise, wicked, and tender.” —Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, The New York Timesbestselling author of The Nest

Janet works at a rundown dog shelter in the woods. She wears black, loves The Smiths, and can’t wait to get rid of her passive-aggressive boyfriend. Her brain is full of anxiety, like “one of those closets you never want to open because everything will fall out and crush you.” She has a meddlesome family, eccentric coworkers, one old friend who’s left her for Ibiza, and one new friend who’s really just a neighbor she sees in the hallway. Most of all, Janet has her sadness—a comfortable cloak she uses to insulate herself from the oppressions of the wider world.

That is, until one fateful summer when word spreads about a new pill that offers even cynics like her a short-term taste of happiness . . . .just long enough to make it through the holidays without wanting to stab someone with a candy cane. When her family stages an intervention, her boyfriend leaves, and the prospect of making it through Christmas alone seems like too much, Janet decides to give them what they want. What follows is life-changing for all concerned—in ways no one quite expects.

Hilarious, bitterly wise, and surprisingly warm, Sad Janet is the depression comedy you never knew you needed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593086520
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/16/2020
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 340,437
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Lucie Britsch’s writing has appeared in Catapult, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Split Lip Magazine, and The Sun magazine, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Sad Janet is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

One
 
I’m lying in bed watching TV and some man on some morning show is telling me there are one hundred and eighty-one days till Christmas. I need to be ready, apparently, like there’s a war coming, or a storm. It’s both.

I switch off the man and the TV. I have to get up and get myself to work, and I do both those things and feel like a goddamn hero. My boyfriend does the same, but it’s no big deal to him, which is annoying. He’s annoying.

One hundred and eighty-one days. That’s half a year to worry that I won’t be able to get it up for Santa, or my boyfriend, or myself even. That’s a lot of normal feeling-crappy, with the extra worry that I’ll feel crappy at Christmas, when I’d rather feel something else—not happy, god no, what even is that?, but different. I’ll probably just feel drunk, and then I won’t be able to get it up for anyone, but just let everything happen to me, like most years.

As soon as I get home from work, I switch on the TV, my only true friend maybe, since my boyfriend’s not home. I think he said he was doing something, but he lost me at doing. A woman with giant breasts and giant lips comes on the screen. She’s at some over-the-top kid’s birthday party, and she’s saying that life is about being happy. Why isn’t that child in bed? I’m thinking. My only maternal thoughts come at random times, over random things.

She’s from a sex tape. The woman, not the child. She spent all her sex-tape money on this kid’s birthday party. It’s obscene, the party, but she’s happy. The woman, not the child. The child looks crazy. They all look crazy.

I switch off the large-breasted woman and the TV and try to sleep. A hundred and eighty-one days. I need to be ready.

The next day at work I’m supposed to be brainstorming ways we can get more money, because we have none, but I’m mostly thinking about sadness. Melissa is thinking the shit out of ways we can make more money, any money, and Debs is regretting mentioning it. All of Melissa’s ideas involve us baking, for some reason but we’re not listening.

I’m thinking about how the world is awful right now but I think I always knew it was.
For as long as I can remember feeling things, I’ve felt sadness. Now, for example, I feel sad that we have no money. Also a little mad that a bunch of idiots seem to have it all. But sad, mostly, because I think that’s just the way things are, and baking cupcakes isn’t going to get us enough money to make our lives mean anything.

But that’s not the sadness I’m preoccupied with. Mine isn’t one I can put my finger on. It’s an all-encompassing feeling, like my lungs are filled with it instead of air. It’s not me, but it surrounds me, so it’s become me by osmosis.

You’d think it would feel better to be at one with the world.

People don’t like this sadness of mine. They’ll do anything to pretend it’s not there, that I’m not there. If I hadn’t chosen to work out here in the woods, at a rundown dog shelter, they would have banished me someplace similar, like an outlet mall.

I’m here, though, just barely. Hi.

There’s no word in the English language that properly describes this feeling I have, the one that makes other people uncomfortable. The one that people want me to fix—with makeup, a clean sweater, or a dress, a nice pretty dress, and some girls’ shoes, not boots, not men’s anyway, as if boots give a crap about gender. As if a man can’t wear a dress now. Or a dog.

The Japanese have a term for it: mono no aware, the sadness of things.

The existentialists made it a whole thing—literally made the emptiness of life into a movement—but you have to embrace the sadness to be in their club. I might consider it, if Sartre wasn’t such a misogynist.

The French call it malaise, I think, which makes it sound like a condiment.

The cool kids call it melancholia, because of that Lars Von Trier movie where Kirsten Dunst sobbed at the moon.

The old people used to say bone sad, but I think that was because they were all malnourished and dying of exciting things like rickets and syphilis.

My mother just calls it moody. Difficult.

But the Japanese get it. They have fourteen words for it that don’t exist in the English language, for this feeling that staying afloat is almost impossible.

I’m fine with all of it, whatever you want to call it.

I’m not a goth, though, so there’s hope.
 
 

People are really into this happiness thing, though. They really want me to be happy, and I’m really not that fussed. I’ve dabbled with happiness, I want to tell them, but it never stuck.

I want to say to Melissa, I would fucking love to be thinking about cupcakes and shit right now, but my brain doesn’t work like yours.

Sometimes I think it was my fault that I let the sadness in. I used to make these crying tapes of sad songs that I’d listen to at night when I was in my bed when I was supposed to be sleeping but I wasn’t, I was crying. Crying for all the shitty things I knew were coming. I wasn’t even a teenager yet, but I felt tender and raw and open to all the pain. All those dumb songs about love and heartbreak. I should have been listening to the fucking Muppets.

So maybe I willed it to me, the sadness. And since then I’ve been storing it all up when I should have been throwing it out. Hoarding sadness like I think there’ll be a TV show about it one day and someone is about to come and help me sort my life out.

No one is coming.

Melissa is saying something about a car wash now and it’s gone too far. Like she thinks I’m ever actually going to take my coat off. That underneath this is a bikini body I’ve been hiding and it’s the answer to all our prayers.

A car drives past and I catch a second of some boy band I shouldn’t know but I do because you can’t avoid them.

I should be happy, apparently. Not because we’ve just won the war on terrorism, or survived a near-fatal collision with an asteroid, or found the cure for cancer, but because happiness is right there for the taking, if I would only take my butt down to my doctor and then to the pharmacy. Even just a smile might do it.

But I can’t find the words for my hollow feeling. What I need is for someone to see me stood here in my giant coat, holding a bag of dog shit, trying to get on with my day, while Melissa talks at me about bake sales and car washes and moonbeams, and to see that I’m not okay with any of it.
 
 

Anti-depressants are good now, they say. Real progress has been made.

Melissa is on Lexapro. Debs is on good old-fashioned Prozac; she prides herself on being one of the originals. Whoever was driving that car playing the boy band was definitely taking something. Everyone is taking something but me.

My best friend, Emma, started taking Zoloft because she got a free hat. She wasn’t a hat person, but she thought she might be if she was happier. She never did, but she did feel better, so much so that she ran away to Ibiza and never came back. I can’t even pronounce Ibiza.

On the plus side, there’s no stigma now that everyone’s medicated. It’s a huge relief for a lot of people and I’m genuinely happy for them. Yay drugs! It still doesn’t mean I want to take any pills.
No one wants to take pills, Debs says.

She’s wrong. I’ve known people who want to take all the pills. They think if there’s something wrong and there’s a pill, then why not? They take a dozen different ones. My mother’s one of those people. For her, they’re a godsend. I like to remind her that God has nothing to do with it, unless he’s actually some creepy dude in a lab throwing money around. He might be, for all I know.
Why does he have to be creepy, she says, and I think the only man she’s ever met is my dad maybe.

My dad’s a plumber, but he’s not super or called Mario so no one thinks it’s funny. When he’s not plumbing, he’s watching TV and drinking and avoiding my mother like the rest of us.

During the holidays, when other kids got jobs at the mall, I went and learned how to fix a faucet and unblock a toilet. My father thought I was just doing it to avoid the mall, and my mother thought I was doing it to spite her. She wanted a daughter who would stay home and tan with her, not one who preferred to spend the day sticking her arm down a stranger’s toilet. The real reason was that I wanted to see how other people lived. I only saw bathrooms and kitchens, but what more was there? They were the hearts of the home and the people who lived there. I saw a lot of shit that Christmas season.

If my mother had had all these pills when she was younger, she might not have had me and my brother. We were supposed to fill some hole, but we didn’t. And yet she still thinks I should have children. It can’t hurt, she thinks, forgetting how childbirth works.

My mother worked for the local council all her life, doing something that required her to wear an ugly pencil skirt and uglier shoes. I like ugly shoes, but these were too depressing even for a funeral. Then everyone lost their jobs because all the council’s money had been mismanaged and she took some different pills and started teaching jazzercize. Before that, we hadn’t even really known she had legs. Finally, something we had in common.

Neither of my parents had had great Christmases growing up, so they wanted it to be different for us. Which meant they went all out, and we got a shitload of pressure. They thought it was important. More so than our mental health. And the world seemed to agree.

My mother was overcompensating for something—everything, maybe, like everyone else. That was all the holidays were about, filling the void. As a result, Christmas at our house was brutal. Like someone sitting on your chest and punching you in the face repeatedly, but in an ugly snowflake sweater and to the sounds of Dolly Parton singing “Jingle Bells.”

You know Christmas, right? You’ve seen it? It’s such a huge grotesque spectacle. When you’re a kid you don’t know any better. It’s just what you do at the end of every year. But my mother was ruining it. The pressure to perform was unbearable. To be not just a happy family but a happy person in the world, because it was Christmas. But all her pills kept her from seeing how it affected me. They kept her going and she didn’t look back. The world was her enabler. It gave her permission to keep shoving it down my throat. You get on the Christmas train, Janet, or we run you over anyway.

Despite all that, I loved Christmas so damn hard, right up to the moment I didn’t anymore. Still, as with every relationship, I kept letting it screw me because I didn’t know how to tell it I wasn’t really into it anymore.
 

 
Of course, my mother isn’t the only one. Every December the world spends screaming: The more the merrier! The bigger the better! Everyone trying to out-Christmas one another. If you aren’t in a festive onesie, grinning because Christmas, you might as well kill yourself. People go into debt for it. People do kill themselves over it. It’s too sad.

The whole world is too sad, really, but no one wants to admit it because they made it that way.
Which is why I spend the holidays feeling like an embarrassment. I’m letting them down. Moping around in the woods, hoping it will all be over soon.

At least I’m not hanging around malls or parks or wherever happy people go, weeping in my funeral clothes, reminding people that sadness still exists. I’m just living my life.  I’m here at the shelter mostly, where my sadness isn’t out of place.

There were other people like me for a while. I think of them as the other Janets. People who couldn’t do it. The sad, the bereaved, the lonely. I used to read articles about them, about how awful it was to not feel how they were supposed to at Christmas. But then those articles vanished. It was as if people just didn’t want to hear it anymore. People only wanted the happy stories. New articles came along, ones about sad people who went and got medicated and now could enjoy Christmas again. All of it paid for by the drug companies, I’m sure. But I like to think the Janets are still out there, somewhere.

I hope some of them just ran away, like me.
 
Sometimes, when I’m walking the dogs in the woods, I see larpers. Debs calls them the fucking larpers, like it’s their family name. Mr. and Mrs. Fuckinglarper. I can be walking along, minding my own business, and suddenly out of nowhere there’s a boy dressed as a knight. He’ll say something like Sorry my lady, then bow and charge off, and I’m left there thinking Boys are fucking weird, but also it’s the most romance I’ve ever had maybe. Once, a larper came to the door and asked to use the bathroom and Debs said, If I let you I have to let all of you and I don’t want to look like I condone what you do, I have kids.

My point is, there are other weirdos in the woods and sometimes it makes me feel less alone.


 
I work at a dog shelter, so I know a thing or two about sadness. It’s like the exact opposite of Disney World.

Unless you’ve been in a van with a dog on your lap that you’re taking to put down, you don’t know sad. I’d been preparing my whole life for this job. All my years of crying myself to sleep were training so that I wouldn’t cry when I did this job.

Debs doesn’t know this, but before we go to the vet to have dogs put to sleep we go to McDonald’s. It’s our little secret. We don’t get the dog a happy meal or anything; we’re not that sick. We just get a plain hamburger and feed it to the dog gently, by hand, and tell him or her—but, to be honest, it’s usually a him—he’s a good boy.

It started by accident. I was starving, and there it was, on the way to the vet. Should I get him something? I said, half joking. Definitely, Melissa said. She didn’t really think we should stop, but I said I’d buy her whatever she wanted. She wanted a little carton of milk, but I refused because that’s weird, so we compromised on a shake.

I unwrapped the burger. It was the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. The dog didn’t know that, of course. He thought it was the best thing ever. But then so was my crotch. Not even my crotch, but any crotch.

I can’t believe people eat this shit, I said to Melissa. Melissa and I are both vegans—working with animals will do that—but we’re non-practicing. You want to be better, but it’s so hard all the time. It’s so sad that you can’t be fucked. I’d always wanted to be a vegetarian, but someone told me once that most wine isn’t vegetarian. I don’t even really like the taste of wine, it’s just that when I was a kid I thought that when I grew up I’d be one of those women who drinks wine alone at night, and I wanted at least one of my dreams to come true.

So I’m sad, and I’m stuck out here with these dogs in the woods, but otherwise I’m not really that different from everyone else. I have a job, I have people, I eat junk food in my car after taking dogs to be destroyed.

And I take Melissa to McDonald’s sometimes. I’m not a complete bitch.

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