A Bit Much by Sarah Jackson
Published by Penguin Random House Canada
Adult, Literary Fiction
Release Date : June 7th 2022
Alice is twenty-four and falling apart. She’s lost her job, her appetite, her ability to sleep. And now she’s worried she’s going to lose Mia, her closest friend, who’s being treated for a serious illness. On the days Alice can get herself out of bed, she visits Mia at the hospital. While they sink into familiar patterns—Alice makes Mia laugh, Mia tells Alice she needs to get laid—they know their friendship is changing, and they can’t control what will happen in the days ahead.
Still focused on Mia, while trying to convince others she’s a stable, happy person, Alice meets her neighbour James—someone she used to try to avoid. They’re interested in each other, but Alice, who is a lethal combination of judgmental and insecure, is hesitant; she has never had luck with dating, and she thinks now is a weird time since Mia needs her. And Alice figures he probably sucks anyway. Mia encourages Alice to be social, while attempting to hide her own loneliness and fear as her body breaks down. But as Alice tries to push herself to do more, including allowing herself to get close to James, she struggles to move forward knowing Mia can’t.
I haven’t exactly handled her illness well.
A Bit Much is a stunning articulate story about adulthood, grief, and friendship; A well crafted debut by up and coming Canadian author Sarah Jackson.
The first time I heard about this book was when I was browsing the shelves of a local bookstore in Toronto. Immediately the cover caught my eye because of the colours and the sad faces on each finger. But I didn’t pick it up until it was available in my local library. One friend keeps raving about this book. I saw probably over 10 quotes from this book, so I was determined to read it once I got it from the library. As expected I understood why my friend keeps raving about A Bit Much after I read close to fifty pages of it.
A Bit Much is the debut book of Canadian author Sarah Jackson. The story follows the perspective of Alice, an unemployed twenty four year old woman, who is navigating through adulthood on the verge of falling apart as she struggles to find a job, write her book, and maintain a social life. On top of that Alice’s best friend, Mia, is currently being treated for a serious illness.
I grab her hand and ask her to please not be mad at me and tell her I promise to try harder and push myself. I cringe at how pathetic I sound. I wouldn’t act like this around anyone else. She doesn’t say anything, but she squeezes my hand and it isn’t for-giveness, but I’ll take what I can get. Usually, she’s tougher on me. I can tell she’s exhausted.
Jackson crafts a deeply emotional story that conveys a lot of weight implicitly through the actions of the characters and the words that were left unsaid between them. Reading the story there are many visual keys that I took note of, as it ties back to the cover of the book of hands. The description of hands and actions of characters using hands gives vivid imagery of the emotions that are trying to be conveyed in the scene. From scenes describing the flaking of nail polish, the size of a character’s hands, the wave of a hand brushing off a conversation, etc. It is hard to not notice these details as words contradict the action.
Another intricate detail of A Bit Much is the unsaid words and deafening silence shared between characters. These tense moments are blanketed by mundane conversations that do not hit any note of meaning. It is absolutely frustrating for me (in a good way) to see these characters just keep missing each other or keeping the words from being voiced out. There are so many moments of silence screaming with emotion backed with intent not fully taking form. This is what I love about Jackson’s writing as they paint a clear picture through the fine vivid intricacies and minimal meaningful conversations carefully placed throughout the book.
I miss him sometimes after he leaves, but only sometimes. I like to examine the faint violet bruises on my thighs left by fingerprints after sex. I study them, looking for patterns, like they can tell me something crucial about James and how he feels about me.
The characterization of the cast of characters introduced in A Bit Much is as close to reality as they can be, especially the main character Alice. As a twenty something year old myself I found a level of relatability in Alice. The struggles Alice is facing are some of those that any twenty something years old would face. The childhood relationships that grew apart with time but somehow linger, missed romantic opportunities, awkward dating experiences, the ups and downs of maintaining a relationship, and the balancing act between work, social life, dream, and romance. I spot myself in Alice multiple times in A Bit Much and I am sure future readers will too.
The way Jackson writes Alice’s thoughts and feelings did not drown me or feel suffocating in the slightest. A Bit Much is a story that focuses on mental illness and the toll it takes on a person, so in a way I expected to be affected in some way that I have to put the book down. But reading through the book there isn’t a moment when it was all too much for me. Jackson’s writing will put readers in a comfortable state of observation through the eyes of Alice.
“I know this is confusing because I’ve been telling you to write, and get out and go on dates, and then I freak out on you When you’re away. I can’t really explain it. It’s not your fault.” She pauses. “I just feel like I’m not going to get it back.” “Get what back?” Her eyes are blue vats in a web of inky red. I’ll never be able to understand what she’s feeling, and she knows it.
Though what makes A Bit Much different and unlike any book telling a story about a twenty something year old woman living in the city is Mia, Alice’s best friend. The relationship Alice has with Mia transcends an ordinary friendship. They have a deep symbiotic relationship. Alice and Mia are childhood friends that have grown up together, experiencing many significant moments in life together. Throughout the story Alice will reminisce on the memories in her life and in all these memories almost all involve Mia.
Mia’s illness affected Alice deeply from the start of the book until the very end. It manifested within Alice a deep sorrow and pain that took the form of destructive behaviour. And when things look like it is taking a turn for the better in Alice, there is a blooming guilt that stops Alice from experiencing her life. Jackson writes the friendship between Alice and Mia in a subtle yet meaningful way that will pull readers into the shared complex feelings. The weight of the elephant in the room felt lighter than it is supposed to be.
I’ve had a hard time forgetting it since. I know I have to focus on the black, but sometimes it isn’t possible. I worry about everything and everyone. I worry about living incorrectly. I think about conversations from years ago and wonder if I hurt some-one, gave them a complex, and maybe they’ve lost sleep fixating on the dumb thing I said. I worry my heart will stop working. I think about time passing as I lie awake, and the rest I’m miss-ing. I calculate the hours until I have to wake up and then I think about how I’ll never sleep and then I think about how tired I’ll be in the morning. I won’t sleep tonight.
A Bit Much is a book layered with emotion and tension that isn’t fully confronted. It is a book that highlights the unsaid, undiscussed, and brushed off moments in adulthood. Sarah Jackson shows how coming into adulthood it gets harder and harder to express feelings and confront the uncomfortable. Even when reality quickly catches up there are ways to make it avoidable. The story also highlights how mental illness affects parts of a person’s life and how debilitating it is. Jackson’s debut is clearly one of the most well crafted stories I’ve read that held my attention from the moment I cracked open the book to the very final page.
It is a book that I will recommend if you like stories about going through adulthood as a twenty something year old, dealing with grief and depression, and meaningful female friendships.