Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review #3 Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking

The third book I read was “Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking” by Aoibheann Sweeney. I picked up this book at one of the local used bookstores. It was just a dollar and it had a blurb from Alison Bechdel. The book follows Miranda as she grows up. There are four parts, the first is her childhood and high school. The other three are what happens when she goes away to NYC for a summer. We learn that she grew up on Crab Island which is a tiny island near a small fishing town in Maine. Miranda is a lonely child because her mother dies when she is very young and she is raised by her extremely detached father alone on the island. It's just the two of them. Her father is an expert classicist who specializes in Ovid. He is working on a translation of The Metamorphosis and Miranda helps him. She is really an outsider in her own life. Even though she can't remember it she was born in NYC. Which to the town means that she is from “away.” Her father is SOO aloof the whole book, but he is her everything. He is this huge figure haunting the entire book even though she moves away from him in the second half. After she graduates from high school, with no prospects for the future. Her father suddenly gets her a job with at the Latin library that he helped to found. So Miranda packs up and goes to NYC to discover herself.
I found this book really strange. The reviews on Amazon are cut right down the middle with half of them saying the book is a moving portrait of a young person finding themselves, with the other half calling it boring drivel where nothing happens. It's true that this is a really really slow book. This is Sweeney's first novel and you can read that. You can tell she wanted to write a moving story about discovering yourself. It comes off overly ambitions. Her writing is not bad, but uneven. Most of the time the prose was unremarkable, but suddenly there would be a brilliant line. The prose also comes off as non-existant. That might be because Miranda is almost non-existent. Much of the book is colored by Ovid's work. Miranda will go into great detail about the Roman stories, these tie into the story, but not effectively enough to really warrant what becomes their overuse. If anything it is her father that is the main character. The book is really more about Miranda discovering her father than her self. She lived alone with him for 18 years, he really was her everything. She cooked and cleaned for him. She typed his translations for him. He was basically her only friend and confidant. Her father comes off as this huge looming figure. By the end you find out about him and his past that explains some of his behavior. But their relationship is very weird.
In conclusion I probably wouldn't recommend this book. I don't regret reading it, but like Miranda it was a non-entity. In fact, it's been about a week since I read it and I'm already forgetting most of it.

Buy it here.

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