Can privileged people tell interesting stories?
I thought about this a lot while reading the recently released travel memoir, Nowhere for Very Long.
I stumbled upon this book not knowing who Brianna Madia was and I read it before doing any googling. Which is typically how I like to approach media. I like to form my own opinion before the internet gets a chance to form it for me.
Much of the book has to do with Brianna’s upbringing, early life, marriage, foray into van living, and transition to social media influencer. This book on its own was well-written. Brianna is a great writer and I see why she became popular on IG: flowery language, pretty girl, (socially acceptable) alternative lifestyle, dogs galore.
As a travel book enthusiast, I really wanted to love this book. And even as somebody who tries to separate the art from the artist, that was not possible for me. I’ll explain why in this Nowhere for Very Long review (this link is an affiliate, I may get a small commission).
A lot of the book is spent justifying her privilege
I am personally of the opinion that you don’t have to be the most marginalized person in the room in order to have an interesting story. Some of my favorite memoirs are from people who come from perfectly adequate, supportive, first-world backgrounds. I feel like there’s this trend happening in society where your story isn’t worth telling if you haven’t had to struggle remarkably, and I don’t buy into that.
That being said, I think you can acknowledge the privilege without justifying it or explaining why it isn’t, in fact, privilege. It really felt like a lot of the book was the author priming the reader to sympathize with them, which rang very inauthentic and awkward. Growing up middle class in Connecticut didn’t make you poor just because you felt poor compared to the richer kids. Attempting to be relatable when you’re not is worse than just acknowledging that you’re not entirely relatable.
Parts of the book were actually quite relatable, and I wish she’d focused on them more
Relative privilege aside, there were plenty of the parts of the book that I actually enjoyed and related to quite a bit. She and I are about the same age, and we both saw the sobering effects of the 2009 Great Recession. When you’re taught from a young age that financial stability and material wealth will bring you happiness and that ephemeral happiness seems harder and harder to come by, it’s hard not to feel a sense of animosity towards that lifestyle.
I also felt like her fractured relationship with her dad was also very relatable. It’s hard to navigate a strained relationship with a flawed parent. I particularly liked this quote:
That being said, however, I just cannot shake the feeling that these were not Brianna’s stories to tell. As a very public influencer who has been very open about her own journey, she’s also very open about the struggles and failures of the people around her. Other peoples’ addictions, infidelity, and pain. While their choices and mistakes did affect her, she is publicizing (and profiting from) their struggles as if they were her own. I certainly hope she got permission from them, but (at least in Keith’s situation), it very much seems like she did not.
Books about influencers are weird
I’d like to say how weird and disorienting it is to read a book about somebody whose actual profession is “social media influencer.” It’s like watching a movie set in modern times with modern technology, when all plot points could be resolved with, like, two apps and a text message. How do you make for interesting stories when so much of the plot is Very Online? She talks about her Instagram fans recognize her (and her van) and even help bail her out of situations. That kind of stuff takes me out of the book and throws me back into reality in a jarring way.
I definitely don’t fault her for including this information, as she clearly got the book deal because of her social media presence and subsequent controversy. However, it’s another issue that I’ve had with other famous people who write books: are these interesting standalone books, or only intended for fans? Going into Nowhere for Very Long (and this Nowhere for Very Long review) I can’t help but feel like I’m not the intended demographic, as someone who just isn’t of the generation that is keenly interested in People Famous for Being Famous.
She did her ex-husband Keith Madia dirty
Another issue that I had with this book was the fact that the idea of maintaining her ex-husband’s privacy was frankly, a real embarrassment. She calls him Neil in the book but a passing glance at her Instagram will confirm that her ex-husband was, in fact, Keith Madia and frankly, she does him quite dirty in this book. She paints him out to be an alcoholic, blames him for her dog’s accident, and acts as if he abandons her during a very difficult period in her life.
Keith Madia wrote a letter to Brianna’s subreddit sharing his side of the story and wow. Wow. Brianna is not good to him if this letter is to be believed. She sabotaged his sobriety, they both frequently drove drunk (including when they hit their dog), and she overall made her ex-husband miserable. Clearly, this is an issue of “he said, she said”, but one side is getting paid a ton of money to tell the story, while the other is getting very publicly blamed for almost killing their dog. She says in the book that he doesn’t like being in front of the camera, but she put his entire life under a microscope for her own gain.
In the book, she addresses the criticism (seemingly) very well
So, it didn’t take a forensic psychology degree to realize that she has clearly been “canceled” because of the situation related to her dog and the subsequent GoFundMe debacle. Apparently, they claimed “someone” hit the dog, but it was actually them. In the desert. Drunk driving (according to Keith Madia). At the time, while I was reading her quite sanitized account, I felt like her explanation absolutely made sense. Having lost a precious dog to a car accident, I empathized with the pain and heartbreak she went through related to Dagwood.
But then, almost immediately after, she loses another dog, this time while high in the woods. I’m one of the few people in the world that could empathize with a tragic dog car accident situation, but she even lost me when she learned nothing from it, even after her dog survived and cost strangers over $100,000 in medical bills (allegedly).
She also talks at length (and often) on her Instagram about being “canceled” for the events of the past few years. Personally, I can understand the frustration. I think there’s a lot of pressure on public figures to be perfect or they are tortured by the court of public opinion. We talk about social media performativity and the dangers of feeling pressured to seem “perfect”, but the second someone makes a mistake, they are raked over the coals forever.
But that being said, decrying accountability as cancel culture is just as ridiculous. You cannot get drunk, run over your dog, blame other people, accept over $100,000 in donations, lose your other dog immediately after, learn nothing, and then be upset when people criticize you. Should someone be canceled over a bad tweet, or a bad day? Absolutely not. But should somebody be criticized for years and years of lies?
Nowhere for Very Long review: conclusion
I didn’t want to dislike this book, but unfortunately, the evidence stacked against Brianna Madia is massive. I hope her ex-husband finds healing.
What do you think?