Big Swiss by Jen Beagin - review by Emma Garman

Emma Garman

Listening with Intent

Big Swiss

By

Faber & Faber 336pp £16.99
 

‘Trauma people are almost as unbearable to me as Trump people,’ says the title character of Jen Beagin’s ferociously entertaining black comedy Big Swiss. ‘If you try suggesting that they let go of their suffering, their victimhood, they act retraumatized. It’s like, yes, what happened to you is shitty … but why do you keep rolling around in your own shit?’ These words cast an unlikely spell on our heroine, Greta, a reclusive transcriptionist in her mid-forties. You might say she feels seen, were one of this novel’s many delights not a merciless skewering of therapese.

Greta has recently ended a decade-long engagement and moved to the small artsy city of Hudson, New York, a place, in her opinion, ‘where the deeply deranged go to die’. She lives with Piñon, her beloved Jack Russell, and her friend Sabine, a fifty-something weed dealer, in Sabine’s crumbling Dutch-style farmhouse. Set in twelve acres of land but ‘a one-cigarette drive from town’, the house has ‘layers of peeling wallpaper’, a huge functioning beehive and vermin galore. A family of red squirrels ‘had been wintering in the attic for at least fifty-nine generations, and so it seemed cruel to evict them’.

In her bedroom, wearing fingerless gloves and legwarmers and with spiders ‘large enough to jiggle a doorknob’ for company, Greta transcribes recordings of sessions for a ‘sex and relationship coach’ called Om (real name Bruce). She only knows his clients’ initials – since most of Hudson have ‘spilled

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