Translating Myself and Others by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Writing in another language reactivates the grief of being between two worlds, of being on the outside. Of feeling alone and excluded.”

While I can’t quite satisfyingly articulate or express why I find such comfort in Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, I can certainly make a stab at it. In many ways, Translating Myself and Others reads like a companion piece to In Other Words, as Lahiri once again reflects on her relationship to languages, in particular, English and Italian, and the precarious act of literary translation. These essays are profoundly insightful, eloquently written, and erudite without being inaccessible. Lahiri’s illuminating meditations on writing and translating draw from her own personal experiences and from those of others, as many of the essays included in this collection expand on the works, ideas, and experiences of other authors and historical figures, many of whom Italian. Lahiri’s interrogation of their work, which hones in on their multilingualism and their own efforts with translation and self-translation, added an intratextual dimension to her essays, one that enriched her overall analysis. In many of these essays, Lahiri focuses in particular on her relationship to the Italian language: from the way people have questioned her choice to study this language and the validity of her written Italian, to the feelings brought about by writing in and speaking Italian.

In her speculations and contemplations on languages (who do they belong to? and if they do, to whom and why?), writing & translation Lahiri often refers to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in particular the myth of Echo and Narcissus. In examining the acts of translation and self-translation Lahiri utilizes many apt metaphors, viewing translating as a ‘door’, a form of ‘blindness’ (this one is a bit unahappy comparison to make), a ‘graft’, a ‘traversing’, an act of negotiation and metamorphoses. I also appreciated her contemplations on the function played by writers and translators, the differences and similarities between these two roles and the way their work is perceived or not.
Translating Myself and Others presents its readers with a panoply of thoughtful and thought-provoking essays. Lahiri’s writing struck me for its clarity and gracefulness and I look forward to revisiting the essays here collected in the future.

my rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

“As it turned out, Sooki and I needed the same thing: to find someone who could see us as our best and most complete selves. Astonishing to come across such a friendship at this point in life. At any point in life.”

Ann Patchett is easily one of my favourite authors of all time. The Dutch House and The Magician’s Assistant are absolute favourites of mine and I’ve also loved her previous collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which managed to bring me hope during one of my ‘down in the doldrums’ phases. This is all to say that I will read anything by Patchett. These Precious Days, her latest, is yet another winning addition to her already impressive oeuvre. While many of these essays are preoccupied with death and mortality they ultimately struck me as life-affirming. In some of these essays, Patchett writes about her family, in particular of her relationship with her three fathers. There are also essays in which she looks back to her ‘youthful’ days, for example, of that time when she and a friend were so taken by the tattoos of a Parisian waitress that they were determined to also get tattooed. Patchett also gives us insight into her married life, writes of her love for dogs, of her relationship to Catholicism, of that year she gave up shopping, and of authors, she admires such as Eudora Welty and Kate DiCamillo. It is difficult for me to articulate just how much comfort I find in Patchett’s ‘voice’ but within a few pages of her first essay, I found myself immersed in that which she was recounting. Patchett has a knack for rendering both people and space and it was easy to be transported by her writing. Of course, the ‘These Precious Days’ essay is this collection’s crowning glory. In this essay, Patchett writes of her friendship with Sooki, Tom Hanks’ assistant. This was such a moving and thoughtful essay, one I look forward to revisiting again.
Patchett’s meditations on death, mortality, family, friendship, and creativity definitely struck a chord with me. I loved learning about her childhood and I appreciated those glimpses into her everyday life.
Reading this inspiring and beautifully written collection of essays was a balm for my soul.

my rating: ★★★★½

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Writers & Lovers by Lily King

“I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse.”

In Writers & Lovers, Lily King portrays an intimate and profoundly heartfelt slice of life that brims with wry humor and precise observations on grief, loneliness, identity, and creativity. This is truly a gem of a novel, a wonderful display of bravura. King seamlessly blends together realism and romanticism, capturing with humor and tenderness Casey’s everyday experiences and struggles.

“[I] think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel.”

Writers & Lovers transports its readers to Massachusetts in the summer of 1997. Casey Peabody, our narrator, is in her thirties and attempting to navigate life after her mother’s sudden death. A recent heartbreak has made her feel all the more lonely and vulnerable, and Casey clearly longs to feel that she belongs and that she has not wasted the last years of her life writing a book that will never be published. While most of her friends have abandoned their creative pursuits—opting for more sensible careers and or starting their own families—Casey remains devoted to her writing and to the idea of one day becoming a published author. After her mother’s death, Casey feels even more unmoored and unsure of herself. She finds herself observing the customers who eat at the restaurant she works for, yearning for a connection of her own. Eventually, Casey grows close to two men, both of them writers, one is famous and a widowed father of two, the other is around her age.

“I have a problem with that sometimes, getting attached. Other people’s families are a weakness of mine.”

This novel gives us a glimpse into a particular period of Casey’s life. From her day-to-day activities and worries to the sorrow she feels at her mother’s death and the anxiety brought by her writing, her job, her college debt, and health concerns. The wry wit that characterises her inner-monologue mitigate the many trials and misadventures, Casey, experiences throughout the course of the novel. While the romantic relationships she forms along the way does play a role in Casey’s journey, this novel is first and foremost about her writing. From the process of creating a story to how it feels to write, Writers & Lovers is very much a love letter to writing. Casey’s reflections on writing reveal her relationship to this craft as well as the different ways in which the public and publishing industry view male and female authors. King’s meditations on life, grief, and creativity demonstrate extreme acuity and insight.

“What I have had for the past six years, what has been constant and steady in my life is the novel I’ve been writing. This has been my home, the place I could always retreat to. The place I could sometimes even feel powerful, I tell them. The place where I am most myself.”

Casey is the novel’s star and I found her voice to be hugely endearing. Despite her dalliances with melancholy, deep-down she remains hopeful that she will publish her novel. King captures Casey’s idiosyncrasies, her quirks, the way she thinks and expresses herself, in such vivid detail that she felt very much like a real person to me. The characters around her too came across as fully fleshed out individuals whose story doesn’t revolve around Casey herself. They are nuanced and multifaceted, regardless of how often they crop up in Casey’s narrative. The restaurant scenes were so realistic that they reminded me of my unfortunate time in F&D (it truly feels like a microcosm).

Writers & Lovers is a deeply affecting and ultimately hopeful story about a woman’s determination to pursue her dreams, in spite of societal pressure and of other people undermining her capabilities as an author or life choices. The author’s prose, the setting, the characters, the subject matter, all of these spoke to me. While reading Writers & Lovers I was struck by a sense of nostalgia while reading this, perhaps due to it being set in the 90s, which is still lingering over me as I write this. I found myself desperate to see how Casey’s story would conclude and unwilling to part ways with her.

“It’s a particular kind of pleasure, of intimacy, loving a book with someone.”

Inspiring, witty, delightfully intertextual, full of heart Writers & Lovers is a truly luminous novel that I can’t wait to read again and again.

PS: the first time I tried reading this I hated it so I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. At the time I was in the doldrums and took Casey’s romantic expression too seriously. My apologises to the people or so who liked my original review of this but I now love this book (what can i say, i’m a turncoat 🤡).

Translating Myself and Others by Jhumpa Lahiri

my rating: ★★★★★

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

She wondered if the rest of early adulthood would be like this—avoiding roommates, getting ripped off for bad fusion food, and the peculiar loneliness of being smothered by people she didn’t want to spend time with.

Having recently fallen in love with Choi’s most recent novel, Yolk, I was eager to read more by her. As debut novels go Emergency Contact is certainly a pretty solid one. It boasts the same sharp humor that made Yolk such a winsome read (for me) and it similarly focuses on somewhat messy ‘older’ young adults (ie college-aged).

Penny Lee is a college freshman who would like to leave her unremarkable hometown and high school experience behind. Penny was raised by her mother whose parenting style could be described as very casual. Celeste often acted more like a friend than a mother and Penny has grown increasingly resentful of this, having had to worry about/look after her since a young age. Penny wants to be a writer but in her creative writing assignments struggles to get ‘close’ to her characters. Her roommate, who comes from wealth and is fairly outgoing, tries to be friends with Penny but our girl has a habit of pushing people away.
Sam works (and lives) at a café and he isn’t coping all that well. He had an intense relationship with his ex and he still not over her. His mom is an alcoholic, his estranged father is the quintessential deadbeat dad, and he had dropped out of college because he couldn’t afford it. Sam is broke and heartbroken.
As fate would have it Penny and Sam meet each other. They begin texting each other assiduously, getting to know each other, offering words of comfort or advice, being ‘there’ for the other. Most of the book focuses on their struggles, be it at college, with their mothers, or their exes. Despite the lack of ‘shared’ scenes the author convincingly develops their relationship. Their dynamic was so sweet and authentic. Their banter and flirting are a delight to read.
Penny and Sam are far from well behaved or perfect. They are petty, make assumptions about other people, they hurt the people they care about, they aren’t always able to forgive others or to consider other people’s perspectives…all these things made them all the more believable and I appreciated that the narrative, other characters, if not they themselves, call them out on their behaviour. The narrative also doesn’t depict certain characters as wholly mean or cartoonishly horrible which made me like the story all the more.
Choi captures the worries, fears, and anxieties that come when you leave home or set off to college.
Enjoyable, funny, and not without its touching moments Emergency Contact will definitely appeal to those who are looking for a more realistic and frank YA romance/coming-of-age. If you’ve already read this book I thoroughly recommend you check out Yolk.

my rating: ★★★¾

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Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld

Even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible I did really like her collection of short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It, so I was looking forward to read Help Yourself. Sadly, I did not find the three stories collected in Help Yourself to be as memorable or evocative as the ones in her previous collection. Two of the stories were probably meant to make the reader cringe, and although they kind of succeeded, they did not really have any interesting to say. Although all three narratives come across as somewhat realistic, and they do touch upon on relevant topics, they ultimately felt superficial, merely skimming the surface of the characters, dynamics, issues they were centring on.

‘White Women LOL’ : 2 ½ stars
This was easily my least favourite story. We have a forgettable white suburban woman who is filmed while being a total ‘Karen’. She doesn’t think she’s racist, nor that she acted wrongly, if anything she seems to believe that she didn’t come across well in the video, and that the whole incident was misconstrued. The dog of her one black friend is missing, and this woman decides that by finding him she might ‘redeem’ herself or something. This story was very satirical towards a certain type of white American women, a type that I would rather not read about as I do not find their stupidity and cattiness to be even remotely amusing. While I do believe that people like them exist, I wonder why anyone would write a story about them, especially one that is as shallow as this. This story tried and failed to be witty and sharp.

‘Creative Differences’ : 3 stars
This story was more likeable, but I once again didn’t care for the tone of the narrative. We have this millennial from the Mid-West we are meant to root for but I kind of found myself irked by her. The film crew from Manhattan are snobby towards her, and she doesn’t really challenge them as the summary for this collection would led you to believe. She sticks to her decision, but it wasn’t a particularly subversive act on her part. It seemed weird that the story followed the perspective of just one man from this crew, rather than the whole crew or the Mid-Westerner herself. This guy played a side character role and yet it was through his pov that we were seeing things through. Again, this was a satirical story, this time more focused on the film industry and the art world. It wasn’t a bad story per se but it was kind of boring and forgettable.

‘Show Don’t Tell’: 3 ½ stars
The best story in the lot. This felt very autobiographical, and the first person narration added a layer of intimacy and immediacy that the first two stories did not have. I liked the narrator’s wry tone, and her dynamics between students who have very different writing styles as well as contrasting views on what good writing is. Here Sittenfeld has something to tell, and it clearly come across (so much so that it doesn’t read like fiction).

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars
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The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi — book review

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The Eighth Detective is not quite the “thrilling, wildly inventive nesting doll of a mystery” it’d be promised to be. I approached this novel hoping for something in the realms of Anthony Horowitz. Sadly, The Eighth Detective seems closer to The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, in that both novels are hellbent on ‘confusing’ the reader with ‘shocking’ reveals. Similarly to Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, The Eighth Detective introduces to a the work of fictions writer of detective fiction. In Alex Pavesi’s novel the writer of a collection of short stories (all whodunnits) has relocated to an unmanned island. He’s approached by an editor interested in re-publishing this collection. She decides for theatrical reasons to read his own stories to him, all of these stories build on a paper he wrote “examining the mathematical structure of murder mysteries” called ‘The Permutations of Detective Fiction’ (very a la Ronald Knox). The editor notices discrepancies in his stories (continuity errors, incongruous descriptions etc.).

The novel is ¾ made up by these short stories…and dare I say, or write, that they are at best mediocre?
After reading the opening story (one in which a character called Henry may have murdered a character called Bunny…was this a nod to the The Secret History), I hoped that the following ones could offer a bit more variety in terms of structure, style, and atmosphere…sadly, they are very same-y.
Most of them seem like Agatha Christie rip-offs (the most ostentatious of which is acknowledged by the fictions author as a ‘homage’ to his favourite crime novel). Each short story is followed by sections titled ‘Conversations’ in which the editor grills the author about his stories. The author seems to have little recollection of the intentional discrepancies he peppered into his stories, but the editor is unyielding and tries to learn more about his private life (which made certain later reveals less ‘shocking’). Each time she finishes reading a short story the final line appears twice (once at end of the short story and once at the beginning of the following ‘Conversation’). This did not help in making the novel feel less repetitive.
The writing style doesn’t seem to vary so that the short stories and the ‘Conversations’ seem to have been written by the same person (which they have, but it kind of ruins the illusion of the stories having been written by a character). The characters were mere names on a page, their personalities inexistent or irrelevant.
The Eighth Detective will offer little to readers who are fans of detective fiction and/or whodunnits. The short stories were populated by boorish caricatures, relied on predictable twists, and failed to amuse or surprise.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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Old School by Tobias Wolff — book review

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“A true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life.”

Old School presents its readers with a concise exploration of the complexities of writing and interpretation. Tobias Wolff exerts exquisite control over his prose, evoking through his sparse yet vivid language the rarefied world in which his unmanned narrator moves in. Wolff brings to life the youth of the days past and their strive for artistic recognition, capturing the various undercurrents that are at play in their exclusive school.

“[T]he almost physical attraction to privilege, the resolve to be near it at any cost: sycophancy, lies, self-suppression, the masking of ambitions and desires, the slow cowardly burn of resentment toward those for whose favor you have falsified yourself. ”

What seems at first to be an idyllic environment reveals itself as a place for competitiveness since, as our narrator himself points out, “if the school had a snobbery it would confess to, this was its pride in being a literary place”. Most students, our protagonist included, guard their writing efforts with suspicion, and are wary of criticism. The winner of the literary contest held by their school is awarded with a one-on-one meeting with famous writers (Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Hemingway all make an appearance in Old School).

“I never thought about making connections. My aspirations were mystical. I wanted to receive the laying on of hands that had written living stories and poems, hands that had touched the hands of other writers. I wanted to be anointed.”

The protagonist of this novel has mythologised this ‘audience’, attributing to this meeting a sense of sublimity and viewing the writers he admires through the eyes of a disciple. Yet, his grappling with his ‘voice’ and is often influenced by the writing of those he reveres. His desire to win the competition leads to fraying relationships with his roommate, friends, and to a certain extent his relatives.

“For years now I had hidden my family in calculated silences and vague hints and dodges, suggesting another family in its place. The untruth of my position had given me an obscure, chronic sense of embarrassment, yet since I hadn’t outright lied I could still blind myself to its cause. Unacknowledged shame enters the world as anger; I naturally turned mine against the snobbery of others.”

Additionally our narrator is struggling with self-knowledge. Having taken pains to project a certain image of himself, his own class-consciousness alienates him from other students. Soon, his blindsided determination to win tests his already strained relationships and sees him rejecting truth in favour of self-deception.
The narrator’s undoing is not easy to read. Yet, his narration retains this ambivalent quality that I found quite enthralling.
In some ways Old School does for a 60s prep school what Teddy Wayne’s Apartment does for a 90s creative writing course. Both of these books are deceptively slender, and pack a real emotional punch. Both of narrators are ambition driven and their path to self-discovery is treacherous.
If you are interested in a novel with plenty of insights on writing and authorial intent or for a story that chronicles a boy’s troubling self-discovery, look no further.

Some of my favourite quotes

“It had become a fashion at school to draw lines between certain writers, as if to like one meant you couldn’t like the other. ”

“Now they sounded different to me. The very heedlessness of their voices defined the distance that had opened up between us. That easy brimming gaiety already seemed impossibly remote, no longer the true life I would wake to each morning, but a paling dream.”

“Loyalty is a matter of dates, virtue itself is often a matter of seconds.”

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4)
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If It Bleeds by Stephen King — book review

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“News people have a saying: If it bleeds, it leads.”

If It Bleeds presents its readers with four unnerving short stories. Yet, while Stephen King certainly excels at creating disturbing scenarios, there is something oddly comforting about his books. His distinctive voice feels familiar, and his stories are infused with a certain American nostalgia. King is a gifted and empathetic storyteller who is unafraid of entertaining dark possibilities. These stories in particular seem all too relevant for these uneasy times. King taps into anxieties about technology, media, and data privacy. Characters have to battle their own vices and make sense of what can only be evil. By thrusting his ‘ordinary’ characters into uncanny realities King challenges their perception of themselves and of the world. If It Bleeds features revenge, ambition, violence, apocalypses (?), corruption, and faustian pacts. But there are also plenty of moments in which human connections triumph: friends looking out for each other, dancing on the streets, moments of kindness.

MR. HARRIGAN’S PHONE: ★★★★✰ 4 stars
A very King-esque story. From the setting to the characters, this first story is great. I liked the atmosphere, the discussions around technology, and I was invested in the narrative.

THE LIFE OF CHUCK: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars
This story has a very interesting structure. There are some moving moments, especially towards the end. I was a bit confused but that was probably intentional.

IF IT BLEEDS: ★★★★✰ 4 stars
Holly is a blast and this story cemented my love for her. Her ‘peculiarities’ make her all the more relatable. Her pursuit of justice makes her into an admirable charter and it was fascinating to read of the way her investigation unfolded.

RAT: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars
Although I really like it when King writes about writers I found this last story to be simultaneously grotesque and hilarious. Also reading about a ‘snot-clotted bandanna’ during these pandemic gave me the heebie-jeebies.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.75 stars

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Beach Read by Emily Henry — book review

9780241989524.jpgRomance enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy Emily Henry’s Beach Read.
Personally, while I do enjoy romance books, I usually prefer them to be less cheesy…and while certain scenes or lines in Beach Read did make me smile, it wasn’t quite the ‘laugh-out-loud’ read I was hoping it would be.

This is yet another novel that seems to hint at an ‘enemies-to-lovers’ romance but in actuality the two leads are never truly enemies or hostile towards each other. January, our lead and narrator, has a bit of a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Augustus. While they were in college Augustus made a comment that January interpreted as disparaging both her person and her writing. Years later the two find themselves living in the same town.
January needs a place to write her novel. Not only is she financially ‘broke’, but her boyfriend recently broke up with her. January, who is still grieving the loss of her dad, has few options lefts, so she decides to move into her father’s secret home. As she tries to make sense of the secret life her father kept, she finds it hard to envision writing a story with a ‘happy ending’.
January is quite ‘shocked’ to discover that her new neighbour is Augustus, aka Gus. She is sort of envious that his books are seen as ‘highbrow’ whereas hers are dismissed as ‘women’s fiction’. The two strike up a deal: January will write a book without her trademark ‘happy ending’ while Gus will try to write a ‘happy’ book.

While I liked the premise of this book I soon found myself rolling my eyes at its cliches: Gus has an ‘inky gaze’, a ‘crooked’ smile, he is ‘tall’ and ‘dark’. January’s backstory with her father was rather superficial: she feels betrayed, that much she states early on. Other than that I found that she would often merely rehash her story (her mother had cancer, twice, her father wasn’t the man she thought he was, their marriage was far from perfect). Her relationship with people other than Gus were very feeble: she has a best friend who lives in another city so the two of them keep in touch through texts…which were often very silly and seemed to be included only to add humour. Her mother was mentioned now and again but her personality remained undisclosed. We know she had cancer and that she doesn’t want to speak about her husband’s ‘secrets’. It would have been a lot more compelling and challenging if January had actually loved her ex-boyfriend but she admits early on that she loved the idea of them rather than him…which seemed to go against the book’s proclaimed self-awareness. Given that January writes romcoms it would have been more refreshing if we were presented with a story in which there isn’t such a thing as ‘you can only have one true love’…
Gus…he was very much the epitome of the angsty love interest. At one point he says: “I am angry and messed up, and every time I try to get closer to you, it’s like all these warning bells go off”….which yeah, who says stuff like this? And how is this romantic?
Not only does Gus have an appropriately Troubled Backstory™ but he is just sooooo angsty. Just because his eyes are ‘flashing’ or he smirks a lot doesn’t negate how annoying his ‘you can’t possibly understand me/I am a walking tragedy’ thing he has going is.
Most of his lines sounded unbelievable. At one point he tells January that she is “so fucking beautiful” and “like the sun”. Like, wtf man.

Another thing that I was hoping would receive more focus was their books. January once says that if she were to swap her ‘Janes’ for ‘Johns’, her books would no longer be labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ but as ‘fiction’…which is a statement I don’t entirely agree on. There are lots of female authors who write books with female protagonists that do not fall under the ‘women’s fiction’ category. Perhaps January should have been asking herself why certain genres are seen as inferior to others, or why the ‘chick-lit’ is seen as ‘rubbishy’ whereas the popular books by male authors (such as James Patterson) are not similarly dismissed.
There a few paragraphs of January’s own writing which were really cringe-y. I could not take her ‘serious’ story seriously, it was ridiculous. Also, why perpetuate this stereotype of the writer only being able to write about their own lives?

January is immediately attracted to Gus, so there is never a slow build up from friends to lovers. During their first few scenes together her stomach is already ‘flip flopping’.
Their make out/sex scenes were…okay I guess (?). Although I’ve read far worse there was one scenes which was just yuck-y: one moment January compares herself to a ‘toddler’ sitting on Gus’ lap, the next they are making out. Most of their flirting revolves around ‘junk food’ which yeah, I am not a huge fan of this ‘bonding over our mutual love of donuts’. It just strikes me as juvenile.

For the most part I didn’t particularly hate or love this book. I do enjoy reading ‘feel good’ books (some of my faves are by Sophie Kinsella and Mhairi McFarlane) but Beach Read didn’t really work for me. I guess I was excepting a more ‘subversive’ take on the romance genre…but here there are tropes upon tropes.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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Apartment by Teddy Wayne — book review

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“I’d been happy before just to be his classmate, to learn from him osmotically, but now I grew excited at what this might blossom into, the sort of close, symbiotic relationship I’d hoped grad school would offer and the Hemingway-Fitzgerald complementary pairing I’d always thought necessary to one’s artistic development.”

Set in New York between 1996 and 1997 Apartment portrays the making and dissolution of a friendship. Our unnamed narrator, who is attending the MFA writing program at Columbia, is a rather introverted young man. His father is paying for his tuition and his other expenses while he is staying in his aunt’s apartment (in what amounts to an illegal sublet).
His loner existence is shaken up when he begins to hang out with Billy, a talented classmate of his. Billy, who hails from the Midwest, has only recently gotten into writing and reading. Unlike our narrator, Billy struggles to make ends meet and works as a bartender. Out of a combination of guilt and genuine admiration for Billy and his writing, our narrator offers him his spare bedroom.

“A first sleepover, whether it was sexual or platonic, had a way of making you both more and less comfortable around the other person; you’d jumped a fence of intimacy, but now you saw each other in the blunt morning light.”

Living in such close quarters however is not easy. The power imbalance between the two of them (which sees the protagonist becoming Billy’s benefactor), their opposite financial situations, as well as Billy’s writing capabilities, put a strain on their bond. Soon it becomes apparent that they also have differing interests and political outlooks.
The unspooling of their relationship is uncomfortable to read. As their awkward chats give way to tense silences, we read with a mounting sense of dread.
The narrator’s discomfort becomes our own. Yet, his caginess puts us at arm’s length. Early on he confesses to Billy that his biggest fear is that no one will truly know him. While this hints at a certain level of self-awareness, our protagonist remains unknowable. His writing too, according to his classmates’ feedback, reflects his reticence to let others see him.
His self-imposed isolation gives way to a perpetual cycle of loneliness and alienation. As he realises that his friendship with Billy is irrevocably damaged, the narrator does the unthinkable.
In spite of the narrator’s unwillingness to articulate his true feelings, I came to care for him. His observations were rendered in a shrinkingly genuine manner, and even if he does not reveal himself to us, or others, we do become familiar with his solitude and with his feelings of not belonging.

“I would never relate to these people after all, they wouldn’t come to know me and no one ever would, and it wasn’t because I was a misunderstood rebel or suffered from some diagnosable pathology; I was an oddball—but not even a ‘classic’ oddball, no, I was an oddball among self-selecting oddballs who had found community with other oddballs, and to be on the outside of mainstream society i one thing, and admirably heroic struggle, but to be on the fringes of an already marginalized subculture is simply lonely.”

With a narrative that is rife with literary allusions and academic terms, Teddy Wayne’s conveys the sheltered yet claustrophobic atmosphere of an MFA program. The narrator and his classmates seem aware that they are active participants in what they define as ‘real life’. Billy’s less than privileged background is what differentiates him from the rest. Yet, the more time he spends at this program, the more self-assured he becomes. There are some great discussions around talent and ambition.
The narrator’s internal monologue also provides some moments of humour. For example, in contemplating a romantic relationship with another writer he makes the following observation:

“Writers were either histrionic or reserved or oscillated wildly between the two poles, all we’d have to talk about would be what we’d composed that day or how we were depressed that we hadn’t produced anything, the whole thing would be insular and incestuous.”

The novel also delves into themes of masculinity, identity, friendship, creativity, and sexuality. Wayne’s depiction of the mid-90s is simultaneously piercing and nostalgic. New York too is rendered in an evocative way.

Written in a propelling style and possessing all the trappings of a psychological thriller without actually being one, Apartment tells a profoundly poignant tale in which the narrator’s namelessness reflects his withdrawn nature.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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