Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel

While reading this book, I decided I wanted to live inside the story. I wanted to be Janey-- an English graduate student who moves in with her two best friends to help raise one of the friend's baby. I loved everything about this book even at moments where I wanted to change the development of the plot. I loved that it grounds itself in literary theory and is so inherently meta. As Janey teachers her English class about poems, short stories, movies, plays and novels, the book itself displays elements of each genre. Janey is the Diggory; she anoints herself the unreliable narrator. And yet she is human, warm, intelligent, thoughtful, everything I desire in a close friend. I loved the characters in this novel (although I didn't understand any of Jill's charms at times). I loved learning how these three disparate women with such different backgrounds came together to form a family and how their community continued to grow to include a gay couple (another graduate student and his chef partner), a Morman boyfriend and husband, a Jewish grandmother, and a History Phd student. I loved The Atlas of Love's vision of family and the message it sends about untraditional families. I wanted to be a part of the motley crew of characters who came together to support each other, who shared Sunday dinners, child rearing and their own real family members.

Frankel's depiction of graduate student life in Seattle makes me want to run away to Seattle and study literature (even if I will be reading, writing, and grading forever). I loved the world these characters inhabited. There are dinner parties and thought-provoking conversations, conflicts and differing opinions, but also deep abiding friendship.

Frankel has created something beautiful and unique in this story. It is a novel about female friendship, motherhood, love and emerging adulthood, and yet it is uniquely different from all the other novels that touch on similar ideas. Frankel has a unique perspective and a clear voice. Her own experiences as a graduate student and professor clearly enrich the honesty of the story. Beyond that, she has a great eye for the humor in modern life. Her story is playful and fun, yet real and honest. This is truly the type of novel I can imagine reading over and over.

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