Picks and Pans Review: Leaving Brooklyn
by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
The protagonist of this insinuating, slender novel is a writer named Audrey. She is looking back at her childhood in Brooklyn during and after World War II—especially her teen years—but she is really looking back, in a way few people do. Audrey acknowledges that what she believes to be memories may be more like fabrications, designed to make herself over into the girl she wanted to be. But even to the extent that she has rewritten her own life, she finds it revealing to examine it like someone holding a prism up to the light, and a lot of readers will find it provocative too.
Audrey inevitably spends a lot of time musing about her far less analytical parents. Her mother's favorite saying was "to thine own self be true" while she constantly denied herself. Her father was distant though apparently loving. "I was mistaken about many things back then," Audrey says of them, "but maybe not about this: they may not have known or wanted to know how very circumstantial and arbitrary life could be, how unprogrammed, how unsettled."
While the novel is not one of events, Audrey has an affair with her ophthalmologist before she is 16. Schwartz describes the physical part of the affair (all there is, really) in cool detail, making Audrey's involvement seem alternately one of clinical curiosity and animal passion, and that two-sides-to-every-story approach is an overriding theme of the book. Audrey in fact was born with a damaged eye that forces, or maybe allows, her to see and study the world as an environment both distinct and fuzzy. Schwartz, whose previous novels include Rough Strife and Disturbances in the Field, seems to be touting the virtues of the process of examination itself, as people in therapy sometimes seem to value the act of the therapy itself more than any supposed benefits they'll derive from it. This sort of curious self-perusal is fascinating to eavesdrop on, which may partially explain why people become therapists or read such novels as this. (Houghton Mifflin, $15.95)
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