Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

Make Believe, Joanna Scott

Preemptive New Year's resolution: chronicle all the books I read (perfect for the obsessive in me!). So here are a few (meager, disjointed) thoughts on the piece of fiction I just finished.

Have you heard of Joanna Scott? I hadn't until I came across a trove of her books in my favorite used bookstore (Seaburn, on Broadway in Astoria); I picked up The Manikin and Make Believe because, well, she was blurbed by Michael Cunningham and Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace ("the absolute cream of our generation"), and someone at the NYTBR held, "We haven't heard a voice like hers since Ovid wrote his Metamorphoses." Endorsements like those are hard to deny.

I read The Manikin almost in one sitting; I could not put it down, and it was easily one of the best books I've read this year. (Forthcoming: a list of my favorites? Hrmmm ...) A splash of the gothic, a story about what it means to be a young woman growing up -- there were a lot of themes for me to grab onto. I'll probably need to reread it, because I consumed it so greedily and in such a fever I can hardly cite what it is that impressed me so much.

The cover copy on Make Believe made clear that the book covered very different ground, so it's not surprising that I was not as entranced. Still good, but I've read a lot more books about the intricacies of the American family than I have about creepy old houses stuffed with taxidermy projects. Make Believe is ... well, I suppose you could say it's a story of two families who suffered a common tragedy, and it explores the very different ways that the two groups of people made lives out of the wreckage. This makes it sound a bit like a Lifetime movie, or one of those terrible after-school specials so popular during my formulative years, but it is much, much more than that; it is flashbacks, and shifting narratives, and layers of chaos that are as hard to untangle as the threads that hold together the fabric of any family.

At the end of the book, Scott writes:

As for the cold, well after the first shock you just stop feeling it, you stop feeling any discomfort, instead you’re treated to the very simple certainty that you should be exactly what you are, even as you’re changing.

2010 has been a bit of a shock for me. I am still out in the cold. My fingers are numb, but I think I know better now who I am and where I want to go.