Friday, May 22, 2009


New York: Berkley, c2004.
269 p.

After recently reading Kitty Burns Florey's treatise on handwriting, Script & Scribble, I started noticing how often I handwrite things (often) and how much I used to write things like letters (much more often than currently). It was a fascinating read; I enjoyed it greatly, and so did Stefanie at So Many Books recently. I also serendipitiously heard an interview with her on CBC radio last week (May 17 broadcast).

But, I had never read or even come across any of her fiction previously. This week, as I had some time off work and I have been recuperating from a disturbingly lingering virus, we decided to cheer ourselves up with a day trip -- and of course ended up at a large Chapters (Canadian chain bookstore, fyi). I was skimming through the sale fiction and came across one of Florey's novels, Solos. Now, I knew nothing about it, but seeing her name made me grab it, and then reading the back convinced me:

Emily Lime, whose name reads the same backwards as forwards, is a photographer and word-lover-at-large. Her Brooklyn neighborhood teems with eccentrics and their myriad pets-and Emily is proud to call many of them her friends. Although the thirtysomething crossword junkie is flying solo and down on her financial luck, she's learned to be happy with life's simple pleasures. Things get complicated when Marcus Mead, Emily's dog-walker-cum-Scrabble-rival, comes into the picture. Widely considered an oddball, the endearing twenty-year-old has unwittingly become Emily's absurd, unrequited love. The only problem (besides the sixteen-year age difference) is that Marcus's father is Emily's paranoid, unsavory ex-husband-and he wants her dead. More specifically, he wants Marcus to kill her. And now it'll take some cunning to solve the puzzle that is their lives...

Seriously, how could you not want to read this? I was very glad I picked it up because it was just as enjoyably well written as her nonfiction was. I loved the character of Emily Lime, and her odd fixation on numbers and anagrams and palindromes and so on (in fact it kind of reminded me of John Green in a way; there were even some Last Words thrown in there!)

The book starts with Emily and Marcus at the dog park, and their relationships with animals, both pets and wild animals, are integral to the book. Not only theirs, but everyone they know; Emily's landlady only likes renting to pet owners because she feels they are more warm hearted and trustworthy. (Emily has a dog and a bird and ends up with 2 cats as well) It's all set in the area of New York known as Williamsburg, and the setting is a huge part of the story; it's a love song to urban living, which was very convincing, almost making me feel nostalgic for the cramped apartments of my student days. Almost. It has a really nice feel to it, full of strong friendships and the consolation of animal companionship. Great supporting characters add to Emily and Marcus' stories, and there are lots of literary elements I loved, like the Trollope reading group they all belong to or the discussion of the Proustian maxim that we only want what we can't have. It was a charming novel, but definitely not twee; there were complex and dark themes as well. Some of these dark elements of the story didn't seem to quite fit in to the light tone the book began in, but I could see where she was going with it, and it did work in the end.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was how everything didn't get neatly tied up in a sentimental ending. There are ambivalences and complexities; are some people just made to be 'solos'? Is a couple the only possible form of happiness? This resistance to tidy endings did not preclude a great sense of hope from infusing the story, however, and the creation of so many people who just loved life in all its imperfect glory highlighted the fact that we don't need Perfection and complete closure to live a happy life. Sometimes it is simply the uncertainty of life and our determination to forge on that makes it so overwhelmingly beautiful. I greatly enjoyed this one and if you'd like to take a cheap trip to New York while getting to know a group of fascinating, clever animal lovers, pick up this book and escape for a few hours.


  1. This one sounds like good fun. I'm adding it to my list alongside her handwriting book.

  2. You had me with "crossword junkie"! I just read about crossword junkies, and met Stanley Newman... Thanks for writing about this book. It's a must-must-TBR.


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