The cover of Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's debut novel, Harmless Like You, sports some very high praise from writers as esteemed as Lorrie Moore. Judith Mitchell captures it the best when she recalls its "unflinching honesty". Harmless is a relentlessly honest book, capturing some of the ugliest and under-represented facets of life, in rich, elegant prose.
The book is separated into two eventually overlapping timelines, tracking Yuki, the daughter of two Japanese expats, growing up in New York in the late 1960s and 1970s and her son, Jay, in 2016.
A larger proportion of the story is dedicated to Yuki and her trying to find her place in life, in terms of love, artistic fulfilment and society in general. Her eventual inability to settle into her unfulfilled married life leads her to abandon her husband and son. Jay's equally troubled section of the book is set in the wake of his beloved father's death, after his childhood home was willed to his estranged mother and he is left to execute the will.
Both characters struggle with fidelity and adjusting to parenthood. Some of the book's most poignant moments are when Jay considers if he loves his child at all, or what it would be like to drop her?
Harmless Like You exposes us to the messier side of life, the parts that remain unmentioned for fear of judgment or embarrassment; it perfectly describes how life isn't easy, without lowering itself to useless, clichéd platitudes. Hisayo Buchanan managed to produce a genuinely captivating narrative out of an unfortunate series of events.