From my library to yours: Gurwitch’s book: “true downward mobility” or good reading?

Maureen Cooke

In “When are you leaving? Adventures in Downward Mobility, ”author and comic book Annabelle Gurwitch explores the precariousness of her financial and emotional situation resulting from a divorce in her late fifties.
Whether intentional or not, using her own life and quirky humor as the focus, Gurwitch successfully critiques the economic insecurity and psychological stress that comes with it so many Americans face.
A collection of essays, the book provides insight into Gurwitch’s life before and after divorce. Prior to the divorce, Gurwitch was a successful and well-to-do writer and actress, most recognizable for her time as the host of TBS’s “Dinner and a Movie”.
After the divorce? Gurwitch is still successful but not as rich. She loses her affordable health insurance.
Her house, which is part of the divorce settlement, is old, built on a landfill and in need of ongoing and expensive maintenance. Her child, Ezra, is in college in New York City and is in need of money often.
Gurwitch also faces emotional upheaval: his parents die, his cat runs away, and Ezra is revealed to be non-binary.
All of these challenges could have resulted in a depressing book. However, Gurwitch is an actress and comic writer, and she does what the comics do: she uses humor to cope.
For example, when her parents die, she and her sister are sorting out the field, and instead of keeping any valuables possible, Gurwitch’s sister rescues two rusty colanders. Maybe they are antiques?
Trying to replace his sofa, Gurwitch heads to an upscale furniture store, where all of the sofas are named after Californian authors. Outside of that market, Gurwitch buys a sofa elsewhere and names it “the Rhoda,” after Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend on the 1980s TV show.
Gurwitch is a skillful writer. The chapter in which she starts dating even though she’s postmenopausal, hasn’t been out in decades, and suffers from vaginal atrophy is very funny.
“You go when” is not to everyone’s liking.
Several online critics have criticized Gurwitch, suggesting that his “downward mobility” is a device. According to them, true downward mobility is only visible among the marginalized and not the privileged.
However, these reviews miss Gurwitch’s epiphany when she gets involved with Safe Place for Youth (SPY). SPY is a Los Angeles-based program that takes young adults off the streets and places them with volunteers.
Gurwitch is paired with a couple in their twenties, Keyawna and Jesse, and their pet bunny.
Gurwitch doesn’t want Keyawna and Jesse, and their bunny, in his house. She is certain that they will kill her, certain that their “homeless” sweat will seep into her Rhoda sofa and ruin him, and she assumes that they are homeless by their own fault.
However, Gurwitch questions her assumptions and acknowledges that her own privilege kept her from being homeless in her twenties.
I recommend this book and offer a postscript. In 2020, Gurwitch, a non-smoker, found out she had stage 4 lung cancer.
The diagnosis made him regret having opened the book with: “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times”, because life can always get more difficult.

(Maureen Cooke has been writing, revising, and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. She is currently working on a detective novel and memoir. She is a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)

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