Review: Rus Like Everyone Else by Bette Adriaanse

If French author Anna Galvada and American director Wes Anderson wrote a book together, the result would likely be something like Dutch author and artist Bette Adriaanse’s debut novel, Rus Like Everyone Else. It’s beautiful, creative, whimsical, and heartfelt. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

Our narrator is an unnamed mail carrier who coordinates the stories of residents on her route: Mrs. Blue, who believes her favorite soap opera is real; Ashraf, whose attempts as self-employment lead to him sleeping in his van; Mr. Lucas, who hypnotizes himself so he can attend a memorial service.

And while we move in and out of these small but powerful lives, the main story is that of Rus, who lives outside the world but in it: abandoned by his family with only a debt card, an illegal apartment, and a collection of vintage tracksuits to his name, Rus’ daily routine consists of keeping “track of the gull that lived in the drainpipe, at what time it left and at what time it came back.”  His is a hazy, glorious, unusual existence.

But when the tax agency discovers his apartment, Rus is suddenly forced to participate in society. He needs to have conversations with others. Complete paperwork. Learn to navigate the rush to the office.

All of Adriaanse’s characters face similar calls to action. And while they try to navigate the unfamiliar world of socialization, work, and climbing the corporate ladder, Adriaanse provides a delightful spin on our everyday life, drawing attention to the absurdity and neglected wonder in our modern-day rituals.

Rus Like Everyone Else a marvelous delight, both for its storytelling and its form. Adriaanse’s small one-scene vignettes are so delicately crafted reading them is like peering briefly into a character’s window before continuing on our route. She illuminates the interconnectedness of even the most distant neighbors, leading to surprising and imaginative conclusions.

The world is a very strange place but, with Adriaanse as our guide, we can also see that it’s pretty remarkable.