Monday, April 27, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
I'm still a New York baby. Or maybe I'm a New York toddler now, I'm not really sure about the conversions. At any rate, it was a hard birth, with lots of kicking and screaming. I read this book as I was making plans to move north from DC, which is fitting, as it's about a young woman who moves to New York. I wrote this review a month before I moved, as I was interviewing for a publishing job, which I got, and then hated, and then quit. I didn't quit New York, though, and come summer I was glad I stayed. Here it is, unedited:
Aoibheann Sweeney’s debut novel, Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking, is an enchanting book of changes. After her mother’s death, Miranda lives in near seclusion with her father on a private island off the coast of Maine. A lonely child, Miranda is preoccupied with the myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a translation of which makes up her father’s life work. The tangled fates of god and mortals begin to crowd Miranda’s consciousness and these stories take the place of more substantial relationships. She is obsessed by the idea that, like these supernatural figures, she too would become “marvelous like they did in the stories Ovid told, and become something else.”
As Miranda grows into womanhood, she leaves her island for another that is more densely populated but sometimes equally lonely: Manhattan. In New York, however, her relationships become more complex and eventually more sophisticated. Sweeney’s use of myths mirrors Miranda’s developing character as Miranda realizes that “the tales in Metamorphoses rarely ended happily; the process of transformation…was mostly a compromise of some sort, a way to negotiate the chasm between desire and mortality.” As she learns to negotiate her own chasm, Miranda’s greatest transformation is the realization that she can affect her own metamorphosis.The review reads like fluff to me now (enchanting? negotiate her own chasm? I mean, really); the connection between Miranda's journey and my own desire for transformation seems blatant. I was stepping into a great unknown, without much of a net, and I was thrilled with my bravery but also terrified that I would die of loneliness, that I would never make a friend or feel safe or loved again. I got over it. I've always had a high ratio of alone time, but I've never felt so comfortable being alone as I do in New York. I think the ability to blend in, to be alone among so many was part of what drew me here.
Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking meant a lot to me because it was about a New York baby just like me, all on her own, half dysfunctional but making it work. Aoibheann Sweeney knows how to talk about solitude, with the right mixture of freedom and melancholy. Plus I'm jealous of the title. It's a great, quiet book.