Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava

Moving is hard. It's hard as a child and as an adult. And as strange as it sounds, it can be hardest on the awkward, shy, and introverted. Because it takes them so much time to warm up to people and they spend so much time in their own self-contained world, when they venture out of that comfortable solitude, they are more alone than the extroverted person who has had to leave behind a whole pack of friends.  I know this because I am that person.  And I have moved six times as a child and seven times as an adult.  Nothing about moving is easy.  But I've never had to move to another country and face cultural and language barriers in addition to the rest of the stresses of moving.  Stephanie LaCava was just twelve when her father moved her family to France from the US.  As she recounts in her unique and fascinating memoir, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects, this move, coming as it did when she was already feeling like a misfit, absolutely decimated her.  As chronicled in these pages, she collected objects that became a way of keeping her anchored to the world, her way of reaching for connection during a painful and hard time of her life.

The memoir itself is told in a series of essays capturing memories linked through the cabinet of curiousities that LaCava was accumulating as she struggled to fit into her ex-pat life in suburban Paris.  Many of the objects are illustrated in the text and are accompanied by extensively footnoted histories, breaking the narrative flow, causing the reader to retreat from the reality and sadness of LaCava's awkward, lonely teenaged years just as she herself did, folding herself into the objects that she collected and imbued with talismanic importance.  It's a risky format as it will alienate some readers but others will be fascinated by this fragile girl's coping mechanism and terribly interested in the tangential information about the objects.  I was the latter reader, but as LaCava herself says about the memoir as a whole, "Consider the source."

The memoir was moving and very personal, despite the footnote interruptions.  It is indeed a bit odd, definitely unusual, and not what most people expect of a memoir.  But it showcases beautifully the very remoteness of serious depression, the ache of being an outsider, and the loneliness of teenagers.  It is not, however, a memoir of place but rather a person and Francophiles looking for tales of living in Paris will likely come away disappointed by the lack of Parisian feel here.  The timing of the essays is not even and so while there are many pieces of her adolescence laid open to the readers' gaze, there are points glossed over and skipped entirely as well plus an essay or two at the end bringing LaCava from her unhappy years in France to her adulthood and to the genesis for the book.  The very breadth of the pieces highlights the fact that these are not one overarching narrative but very definitely connected vignettes.  There is an emotional distance here, a retreat behind the objects themselves, but it is one I recognize and appreciate, a coping mechanism even now.  And LaCava knows that she is looking back at the objects of her childhood, using them as the scrim through which to view a painful and haunting piece of her life.  I thoroughly enjoyed this rather non-traditional, quirky, gorgeously designed, and unexpected little book but readers will have to appreciate it for what it is instead of what it's not.

For more information about Stephanie LaCava and the book visit her website, her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, and even check out her Pinterest page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I can certainly see why you'd connect with this memoir due to your shared history. I'm the type of reader who loves tangential info so I think I'd really like this one as well.

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.


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