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Self Storage


Self Storage

Gayle Brandeis, winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in
Support of a Literature of Social Change (THE BOOK OF DEAD BIRDS),
has penned another novel that is both engaging as a story and
timely in subject matter. In it, she expertly flings a cartload of
characters searching for love, security and identity into a melting
pot infused with political upheaval, fear and post-9/11 muck. The
result is a book that is both chaotic and solid, frightening and
incredibly touching.

Aptly titled SELF STORAGE, the narrative focuses on the business of
the self and how we as humans store the "stuff" that makes up both
our inner core and our external appearance, using Walt Whitman's
gorgeous LEAVES OF GRASS/"Song of Myself" as its guide. All the
main characters struggle valiantly with this process --- some
successful, others not --- in order to define what of themselves is
private and what can be shared openly with others. The book also
addresses identity on a larger scale, and confronts both how we
relate to others in our surrounding communities and how we receive
and are perceived in the world. Given that the story takes place in
our contemporary, war-torn world, the white characters have a much
more carefree, privileged outlook on life and its prospects, while
the Arabs are relegated to prejudicial treatment, confinement and

In brief, SELF STORAGE is a post-gloom-and-doom/pre-sorted out tale
of two families thrown together just months after the Twin Towers'
demise. Twenty-eight-year-old Flan (Flannery) Parker, her husband
(Shae) and two young children (Nori and Noodle) are barely scraping
by in their shoddy university housing complex in Riverside,
California. Flan makes her living buying booty from auctions and
unclaimed storage units and reselling it on eBay or at garage
sales, while Shae fumbles away at his hopelessly pretentious
dissertation ("Hands on the Joystick: Televisual Abstractionism and
the Postnarrative Origins of Virtual Selfhood"). The Parkers sleep
together in one room, mattresses strewn across the floor --- a
symbol, perhaps, of their slim grasp on security and lack of
incentive to do anything about it (without any real

Meanwhile, their neighbors live an entirely different existence.
Émigrés from Afghanistan, the Suleimans barely leave
their house; when they do, they are shrouded in what seems like a
veil of mystery --- most likely brought on by Mrs. Suleiman's
(Sodaba's) burqa. They don't participate in the housing complex's
dinner gatherings, rarely look any of their neighbors in the eye,
and basically keep their strict traditions and their opinions to
themselves for fear of persecution. But when a near-fatal accident
occurs (Sodaba accidentally runs over Flan's youngest child, Nori),
pitting Flan and Sodaba together on opposite sides of a
near-homicide investigation, the two women (and their cultures)
become connected in a way never thought possible.

At times, Flan's mission to "save" Sodaba from almost-definite
deportation after the accident by driving her to a friend's house
in the woods seems a bit too pie-in-the-sky. Some readers might
question Flan's altruistic motives and her willingness to put her
family on the line in order to save a virtual stranger (especially
one who ran over her child), despite Brandeis's efforts to convince
us otherwise. Nevertheless, this dilemma raises weighty questions
about how far one might be willing to go to help another human
being, despite his or her differences.

Above all, SELF STORAGE is an in-depth (if slightly scattered)
study of persons displaced --- within themselves, with their
neighbors and in the world at large --- and of their gallant
efforts to find their way home. Brandeis's emphasis on Whitman's
sentiments and the gorgeous selections from "Song of Myself"
sprinkled throughout are a gift, and readers will delight in the
pages of poetic excerpts included at the end.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 23, 2011

Self Storage
by Gayle Brandeis

  • Publication Date: January 23, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345492609
  • ISBN-13: 9780345492609