Thursday, November 11, 2010

On "A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That" by Lisa Glatt ****

I read a review of this book about five years ago. I liked the title. I was attracted. But still, I've put the book off for years. I think it was the subject matter that turned me off--mother and daughter, woman dying of cancer. Topic wise, it seemed too much like too many other books. It seemed too much like "women's fiction"--as in, something a guy would be bored working his way through.

But my list has grown shorter over the past few years, and Glatt's book kept staring at me from the list. I was going to get it off the list, I decided. I was going to chance it. It helped that I recently saw it on a list of suggested reading at a literary magazine.

There are reasons it is suggested reading. Sure, it is a book about a mom dying of cancer, about her devoted daughter, but it much more than that. Glatt makes the story fresh. She does this in several ways. First, she's a marvelous writer in and of itself. Second, she structures her book in sets of periods and from several points of views. Our main protagonist is Rachel Spark, a woman who deals with the oncoming death of her mother by engaging in largely empty sexual escapades. In fact, if there is anything that each of the protagonists has in this collection (except perhaps Rachel's student Ella, whose husband takes up the slack), it is their attitude toward sex. Each of the girls who also take a turn at being the focus of given sections spend time in empty sexual liaisons. There is a lot of sex in this novel, casual, dangerous, and destructive--and there are abortions, a lot of them. In that way, the book was very unsettling to me; I don't like to think of people being so careless, but I know that that is more common than perhaps I like to think. Georgia, a teen with seeming self-esteem problems and a less-than-satisfactory relationship with her parents, looks for "love" with every boy she meets. Angela, Rachel's friend, seems as prone to casual romance as Rachel herself.

In the end, both Georgia and Rachel seem to be moving toward some kind of acknowledgment of where their lives have been and where they need to go. Each seems to come to something of an understanding of the proper place for men in their lives. Or maybe not. They are runners--running away from trouble by running to men, and even if they might be on a way toward a better understanding of the proper role of men in their lives, they don't show much sign at the end that they aren't still running.

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