"I was another person back then," people are apt to say when
explaining past deeds or ideologies. It is interesting to explore
this idea of who we are and how we are ever changing, sometimes
radically, over time. Through the course of our lives we have many
roles, we often feel or seem like very different people than we
once were. But there is a constant, an essence of who we truly are.
Gabrielle Zevin, in her amazing debut novel MARGARETTOWN, explores
this theme from three different angles --- by looking at how one
man understands the woman he loves, how that woman understands her
emotionally fractured self, and how their daughter will use the
story of her parents, especially her mother, in her own life.
When N. meets Maggie Towne, he is a graduate student teaching
assistant and she is a mysterious undergrad. N. is both frustrated
and entranced with Maggie and will continue to feel that way the
rest of his life. Their relationship moves fast and soon N. is on
his way to upstate New York to visit Margaret's family in a town
called Margarettown. There, instead of her parents, he meets
Margaret's "family," the women who occupy her life. Old Margaret,
Marge, Mia and May all live together in a house called Margaron.
There is one other, Greta, who went crazy and killed herself.
Still, Greta's ghost, her presence, is strong in the house. N.
comes to realize that all these women are Maggie, or better said,
Maggie is all these women. May is the carefree child she was, Mia
the pouty and artistic teenager. Marge is the disappointed
middle-aged woman she may become and Old Margaret the peaceful,
reflective old woman. Greta is the dark side of Maggie, her fragile
self barely under the surface.
How is N. to navigate a life with Maggie when she is ever changing
and unpredictable? Can he love the bitter Marge and the damaged
Greta? In examining these questions N. examines the nature of
partnership and unconditional love. He examines his own successes
and failures with Maggie and tries to understand fully the complex
woman he is in love with.
Here the reader understands that Zevin is writing broadly about the
complexity of all women and the challenges of all loves.
N. is not merely recalling his life with Maggie, reminiscing about
the past and their love. He is dying and Maggie is already dead,
and he is compelled to share the story with their daughter, Jane.
For Jane, this story --- the story of N., Maggie and Margarettown
--- will become the story, full of contradictions and metaphors, of
her family and the mythology of the mother she grew up without. For
Jane, N. tries to capture the elusive nature of Maggie and the
magic of their love.
Zevin's prose is lyrical, funny, simple, elegant and bittersweet.
The plot is interesting, original and magical, although verging on
being overly contrived at moments. N.'s tale is part truth and part
fairy tale, and he admittedly bends or reinterprets the truth as he
writes for Jane (N.'s sister Bess, while demonstrating Zevin's
point about the evolution of a woman through her lifetime and the
transformative power of love, also serves as a voice of reason
asserting itself from time to time throughout the novel). The
Truth, Zevin seems to say, is subjective and often not as essential
as the details.
MARGARETTOWN is a lovely short novel, a new type of love story:
filled with classic romanticism and postmodern cynicism and
introspection. Zevin is clearly talented and her first novel is
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 7, 2011
- Publication Date: May 25, 2005
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Miramax
- ISBN-10: 1401352421
- ISBN-13: 9781401352424