We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

My Rating: 3 stars

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the ARC. This book is being released today, February 9 2021.

First of all, the summary of We Play Ourselves is misleading. It makes it sound like a thriller focused around the disappearance of a teenage girl. It’s not a thriller, and going into this book expecting it to be will result in disappointment. The disappearance is a tiny part of the story. This is a work of literary fiction centered around Cass, a playwright who flees to LA after intense failure and scandal in New York. Most of the action happens before the start of the story and we learn about it later. It’s a character study about Cass coming to terms with her failure and learning how to create again despite it.

I did love Silverman’s satire of the New York theater industry. It’s not a world I have any experience in, but based on my knowledge of “theater kids” from college, it seems fairly spot on. I laughed and cringed my way through Cass’s narration of the New York events. Tara-Jean Slater is an absolute work of art and, ironically, my favorite part of the book. I loved Cass’s hate for her, and at some point it became the only thing really pushing me forward with the story. The satire of the LA film industry is just as biting, though not as laugh-out-loud funny for me.

There isn’t a single likable character in this book. Which is fine for me; I love a good, unlikable cast. I know this may be a major turn off for others. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time caring about most of the characters. Cass frustrated me to no end; she’s right up there with Samantha from Bunny in the list of self-pitying main characters I want to smack. She doesn’t even seem to have a legitimate reason for being as whiny as she is. I started out extremely interested in the group of teenage girls who are the focus of the Fight Club-esque film described in the summary. They have so much potential! But they ultimately aren’t developed enough; I couldn’t tell them apart, and Cass really can’t either. B.B. is the only one who stands out, and I found the plotline with her predictable. But Tara-Jean Slater. Oh, Tara-Jean Slater. What a ridiculous person! I spent a good chunk of the book relishing in hating her. And by the end, I didn’t hate her. She is the only character I cared about. I’d read a whole book about Tara-Jean Slater.

I had a difficult time getting into this book during the first half. It’s slow, and Cass hides the most interesting aspects from us at first. She also does very little but drink and wallow in self-pity. I found myself putting the book down and not wanting to come back to it. The second half switches gears a bit. I ended up finishing it in one sitting. Cass finally starts doing things, and I did find myself enjoying this part. Was it worth the slow and painful buildup? I’m not entirely sure.

Overall, We Play Ourselves is a slow moving character study with some hilarious satire that may be good for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. If you want something fast and thrilling, this is not the book for you.

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