In “You’re Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility,” author and comic Annabelle Gurwitch explores the precariousness of her financial and emotional situation, the result of a divorce in her late 50s.
Whether intentional or not, by using her own life and off-beat humor as a lens, Gurwitch successfully critiques the economic insecurity and accompanying psychological stress so many Americans face.
A collection of essays, the book provides a glimpse into Gurwitch’s life pre- and post-divorce. Before the divorce, Gurwitch was a successful, affluent author and actress, most recognizable for her stint as the host of TBS’s “Dinner and a Movie.”
After the divorce? Gurwitch is still successful but not as affluent. She loses her affordable health insurance.
Her house, part of the divorce settlement, is old, built on landfill and in need of ongoing, expensive maintenance. Her child, Ezra, is in college in New York and frequently needs money.
Gurwitch also faces emotional upheaval: Her parents die, her cat runs away and Ezra comes out as non-binary.
All these challenges could have resulted in a depressing book. However, Gurwitch is a comedic actress and author, and she does what comics do: She uses humor to cope.
For example, when her parents die, she and her sister sort through the estate, and instead of keeping items of possible value, Gurwitch’s sister saves two rusted colanders. Perhaps they’re antiques?
When attempting to replace her sofa, Gurwitch heads to a high-end furniture store, where all the couches are named after California authors. Priced out of that market, Gurwitch buys a sofa elsewhere and names it “the Rhoda,” in honor of Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend from the 1980s TV show.
Gurwitch is a skillful writer. The chapter in which she begins to date even though she is post-menopausal, hasn’t dated in decades and suffers from vaginal atrophy is laugh-out-loud funny.
“You’re Leaving When” is not to everyone’s taste.
Several online reviewers have slammed Gurwitch, suggesting her “downward mobility” is a contrivance. True downward mobility, they argue, is seen only among the marginalized and not the privileged.
However, these reviewers miss Gurwitch’s epiphany when she becomes involved with Safe Place for Youth (SPY). SPY is a Los Angeles-based program that takes young adults off the streets and places them in the homes of volunteers.
Gurwitch is matched with a 20-something couple, Keyawna and Jesse, and their pet rabbit.
Gurwitch does not want Keyawna and Jesse, and their rabbit, in her house. She is certain they will kill her, certain their “homeless” sweat will seep into her Rhoda couch and ruin it, and she assumes they are homeless through their own fault.
However, Gurwitch challenges her assumptions and recognizes her own privilege prevented her from being homeless in her 20s.
I recommend this book, and offer a postscript. In 2020, Gurwitch, a nonsmoker, discovered she had Stage 4 lung cancer.
The diagnosis made her regret opening the book with, “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times,” as life can always get more difficult.
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. Currently, she’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)