I live my life with near-constant tinnitus — a roaring in one ear — and all I can say about Grace Talusan’s wonderful new review of Under the Small Lights in The Rumpus is that it somehow, magically, made that roaring disappear for an entire day. And come to think of it there hasn’t been much roaring today either.
I spent my early twenties haunting the same bookstores and cafes in Boston as Jack does, trying to be a writer. Like Jack, I could be insufferable at times. With a fresh nose piercing, chain-smoking over a mix of Alanis Morrisette, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, I talked in circles about all my hard life choices—where to live (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, or Eugene), which guy to date (one summer, I strung along four at once), what to do for money while I wrote the book that would make me rich and famous (teaching or stocking shelves). I was all promise and passion, but too inexperienced to comprehend the gulf between my ambitions and my skills. I never once considered how privileged I was even to have these choices, to be able to ask the question Who do I want to be and what do I want to do in the world?
I love it when reviewers — of any book — add personal notes like this, and I wonder how in heaven’s name I’ve avoided running into Grace for all this time.
I also found myself thinking, as I read, about something Claire Tomalin said about George Eliot: “She writes about sex perfectly,” Tomalin says; “She never mentions it at all. I mean, who needs the penis and the pubic hair? Sex isn’t that–sex is the feeling.”
I couldn’t agree more, although I’m not clear whether Rohan is implying I did or I didn’t include too much … either way, of course, it’s a potential selling point.