Throughout The End of My Career (Perfect Day, 240 pages, $10), something is making Martha Grover very ill. The lack of a functioning thyroid gland causes her hormones to surge and abate, she can barely hold down a job, and she spends a hell of a lot of time on the toilet.
This collection of autobiographical stories and essays at times stirs up sympathy for a person who just can't seem to catch a break. Along with romantic and financial woes, Grover suffers from a series of horrifying ailments—the majority of which are due to idiopathic Cushing's syndrome, an endocrine disorder that lays waste to her most basic bodily functions. If she were to take a normal shit in the book, she would tell you about it. And it would be cause for celebration.
Grover spends much of the book watching the Portland she grew up in change, as Southeast Division Street is "altered beyond recognition" and the Chinese restaurant next to her laundromat gets bulldozed. Which is not to say this is another Portland ode to nativism. "I've lived here my whole life and I call them hazelnuts," she says to a friend who insists real Oregonians say filberts.
Still, one minute she's disgusted by the privilege of a New Yorker who buys a house only to leave it vacant most of the year, while the next she's bemoaning her own hardly unprivileged options. "I could move in with some kids in St. Johns or Montavilla," she writes, "or with some uptight people my own age who are allergic to everything and require me to be spiritual or vegan."
But her sense of loss is nonetheless palpable. Despite having a master's degree and obvious writing ability, Grover has trouble holding down lasting work even as a house cleaner. Wherever she ends up, Grover acts as the detective—literally a private investigator, in one piece—with her dating life providing some of the best fodder. Early in the book, she meets a man from OkCupid, and ends up having casual sex she immediately comes to regret. After sex, she writes, "He got on his computer and started looking at photoshopped pictures of cats on Reddit, periodically tugging at his penis through his pajama pants."
In the longest piece, "The Women's Studies Major," Grover begins dating a handsome older man who has a women's studies degree and says all the right things. But one night when she gets high on edibles, she paranoically Googles his name and discovers he has a past of abusing women. Those narrative fragments make for some of her most moving work.
And as the book progresses, it becomes clear that what's causing Grover's illness may not be physical—or even quite emotional or spiritual. It's seems as systemic as Cushing's, something almost inherent to the world itself.
see it: Martha Grover reads at Tender Loving Empire, 3451 SE Hawthorne Blvd., on Thursday, Oct. 27. 5:30 pm. Free.