This Woman's Work: Camille Noe Pagan’s "I’m Fine and Neither Are You" tracks the troubles and radical honesty of a working mom
The opening chapters of Camille Noe Pagan’s fifth book, I’m Fine and Neither Are You, communicate the struggles of the modern-day working mother. Penelope Ruiz-Kar is in it up to her eyeballs, “which is pretty much every woman I know these days," says the Ann Arbor-based Pagan.
The book follows Penelope as she juggles a full-time job, an underemployed husband, and rambunctious children as well as day-to-day adulting. Meantime, Penelope’s best friend Jenny seems to have the perfect life -- a wealthy husband, an enviable marriage, the luxury of not having to work, one child who always behaved impeccably. Jenny appears to have it all, have it made. But everything is not what it seems.
“We are in a strange point in time where women are trying to be good employees, the perfect mother, ideal wife," Pagan says. "We are expected to be as successful as men but also expected to be the 1950s housewife. Those things don’t go together. … It’s not a coincidence that we are more stressed out because the world is going on around us and we need something more.”
After learning of her best friend’s unexpected death, Penelope begins making lists about what she wants to change in her life and her relationships.
The idea of writing a story about a character with a list of things she wants to change is something Pagan thought about for many years. “I just couldn’t find the right entry point,” she says. “But then I started hearing things about women who looked perfect, seemed to have everything … and then died of opioid overdoses. The deaths left everyone around them in complete shock, trying to figure out what happened.”
Similarly, Pagan’s protagonist Penelope reels from the shock of Jenny’s overdose death. “Penelope saw things as just being so much easier for Jenny, but then finds out that her friend had bee addicted to pain killers. This prompts Penelope to start getting real with herself … to approach her relationships -- including her marriage -- with what she calls ‘radical honesty.’”
I’m Fine is Pagan’s fifth book, her fourth with the Amazon imprint Lake Union. Pagan began her career as an editor at Fitness magazine and has since written for The New York Times, Time, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Real Simple, and Glamour.
Many of Pagan’s articles involve women’s health or healthy living, “which is how I started hearing about the opioid crisis. Society seems to have this idea that people who are addicted are junkies, poor, dirty … but they are not. They are using legal drugs that have been prescribed to them. Similarly, there are more writings about how women to turn to alcohol to help relax or unwind. It’s a legal, socially acceptable thing, but why are the rates so much higher in modern times? I think it goes back to what women are expected to be and do and why we are so stressed.”
The topic is resonating with readers. While the official release date for the book is April 1, pre-release orders have made it an Amazon bestseller. Pagan is thrilled with the success.
“This is the most personal book I’ve written," she says. "It’s about different groups, different communities, the world that I -- and many others -- live in.”
Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband.
You can read an excerpt of I’m Fine and Neither Are You here (opens a PDF). Related: "Nervous Breakthrough: Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagan's "Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties" explores loss and change" [Pulp, March 19, 2018] and "Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagan is generating buzz with 'Forever Is the Worst Long Time'" [Pulp, March, 14, 2017].