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Cannonball Read III: Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney

By Beletseri | Books | September 14, 2011 | Comments ()

By Beletseri | Books | September 14, 2011 |


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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 and it is divided into four parts. The first part is her childhood and high school. The other three sections cover 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 sooo 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 herself, and 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 tell and it's clear that she wanted to write a moving story about discovering oneself. It comes off overly ambitious. Her writing is not bad, but uneven.

Most of the time, the prose was unremarkable, but suddenly there would be a brilliant line. In some ways, 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, which tie into the larger story, but not effectively enough to warrant what becomes their overuse. If anything, it is her father who is the main character. The book is really more about Miranda discovering her father than herself. 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, which 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.


For more of Beletseri's reviews, check out her blog, My Life in the Bush of Books.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.


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