Some people read Hesperus Press, others Pushkin Press, NYRB and others are making their way through the Bloomsbury Group titles. Add to that list novels published by Two Ravens Press and you’ve got me. In fact, I’ve resolved to read all 6 of their 2010 fiction list! The thing is you never know what you’re going to get with a Two Ravens Press title – apart from a quality read. The diversity in the styles of the titles I’ve read to date is extraordinary and Miss Thing, title #1 for 2010, is nothing like anything I’ve read from them before for it’s an anti-novel of sorts.
The teenager on the cover is Andromeda, 16, left to fend for herself in a large apartment in New York. Her mother recently committed suicide by throwing herself out of one of the windows. Which makes it all the more inexplicable that gran is too busy leading her own life to take better care of her traumatised grandaughter. And so Andromeda begins a downward spiral which involves – well, lots of things I’m not going to disclose – but crucial to the plot is her projecting her need for love onto her not-next-door-but-across-the-courtyard neighbour, Sam. As in all good movies, their eyes met as they looked through each other’s window.
He too is a lost soul, enduring a miserable marriage. In fact, he’s married to an estate agent who’s incensed that Andromeda is allowed to stay in that huge apartment on her own. It’s prime estate and she would like to sell it (naturally). In fact, she begins a campaign to get Andromeda evicted and while she’s at that she evicts Sam from the marital home as well.
The narrative drive is driven by the question will the two not-love but lust-birds end up together? Yet don’t for one minute believe that this is a traditional love story. The signals are all in the telling. There are a number of narrators – Andromeda, Sam and Andromeda’s homeless friend, Frederico. The book is constructed from the writings of each character – we are told the materials on which each individual entry is written. These range from an artist’s sketchpad, a Mead notebook to hotel stationery or a card with a picture of two labradors on the front. . It’s almost as in Chassler is highlighting her debut novel as an exercise in writing – which I suppose it was. It’s a conceit entirely in line with the general quirkiness of the book and it may well irritate some readers, but not me.
Other things did though. Bad language for starters. Fortunately the authenticity of the narrative voices made me forget about that after a while. Neither am I sure about the ending which could be deemed insensitive, even though fully in keeping with the general unconventionality of the novel. While I can reconcile most things that grated, for the record, I’m not at all appreciative of the negative connotations given to my favourite colour, purple!
Another extremely rare phenonmenon – despite not feeling drawn to a single character – yes, not one – Chassler kept me reading to the end. In fact, I’d venture to say that the most fascinating character between these pages is Andromeda’s dead mother. Not just as a splattered corpse on the tarmac in a did she jump or was she pushed way, but as a human being. Andromeda’s memories bring her to life as does the sardonic voice of her poetry, a segment of which begins each chapter.
There’s only one safe summary of this book – it’s unpredictable. There is a happy ending, but I guarantee, not the one you’re thinking of!