Over the years, I've attempted to keep a journal. Attempted because after fits and starts I would give up, deciding I am too uninterestingly neurotic. What future generation would learn any life lessons from the fact that I almost kissed him, but couldn't bring myself to take that last step between friend and lover? Who could possibly give a darn that I have no will power when it comes to chocolate and haven't once had a tidy room? My hope, however, has always been that these recorded inanities would one day tell my story, and that it would be a good one.
Well, Erika Krouse has done it. She's taken our daily journals and found several remarkable stories about wonderfully neurotic women, whose magical lives are rooted in reality, not fantasy. The spirit of Mae West, through judicious use of quips and quotes, guides us through the collection. West's irreverent, sassy, strong and entertaining character is the "second story" --- the reminder that every woman is a good story unto herself.
A little bit of Mae West runs through each of the 13 narrators. Each is a woman on the edge, who, although she finds herself with a new set of circumstances, is the same free spirit. The same woman-child who finds her balance during an earthquake ("Her First Earthquake") is the same woman-child who finally liberates herself from an old relationship by leaving a trail of mementos behind her while she walks home ("Momentum"). These are frank women with bruises, dirty laundry, phobias, and bad judgment. At the same time, they are quirky, honest, practical and brilliant.
In "No Universe," a woman contemplates her infertility against the backdrop of a friend who has an abortion and then decides to have a child deliberately: "I think about my ovaries. And how you're born with them and all the eggs are already intact. And each of those eggs contains all the eggs of future generations. Like a little universe. So when I think about infertility, I think, no universe. No universe…" The alternate scenes of plenty and nothing play against themselves until the distinguishing line is gone and they are each the same.
From "Too Big to Float" (for no other reason than it made me laugh, and I immediately read it aloud to everyone I knew):
"'I'm afraid of flying, anyway.' I admitted. 'I'm thinking of taking the train back.'
'From Chicago? It's so inconvenient.'
'So is dying,' I said."
Finding plenty in nothing and humor in everything else is the most gratifying characteristic of the 13 women in this collection. They tell their stories in a way that is universal yet uniquely female. Running the gamut of feminine anxiety, from drug addiction to sexuality, from mistress to bridesmaid, from breakups to breakdowns, each woman discusses her life with candor. They are wise in their aloneness, and it is beautiful.
Reviewed by Amee Vyas on July 3, 2001
Come Up and See Me Sometime