Wilton Barnhardt, Emma who saved my life (1989)

I’m in the mood for bullet points and numbers…

3 reasons why “Emma…” wasn’t supposed to be my cup of tea :

  1. I barely remember the 1970s and don’t have any nostalgia of them. I was born in the second part of this decade, when the good things were over and the oil crisis made everyone grim and depressed. I have no fond memories of bell-bottom trousers, pudding-bowl hairstyle, orange corduroys made me look green. Plus, every grown-up smoked a lot (and not only tobacco) and that made me want to puke (hence the green, I guess…).
  2. I suck at comic novels. Something I find difficult to translate is one country’s sense of humour. Chances are, when you cross the borders, people will stare and not laugh at all. Plus, in a foreign language I tend to take everything at face value: it’s more difficult to figure out when something is ironic, exaggerated or meant to be funny. I often wonder and imagine that it’s a normal – if odd – behaviour when the local reader will be doubling over laughing.
  3. I’ve never dreamt of becoming an actor. I’m afraid of navel-gazing coming-to-age novels. I never even understood the fascination for this career. A novel about a Midwestern young man dillydallying for years with a budding (aka failing) acting career would normally make me cringe and turn away.

2 reasons why I loved it nonetheless:

  1. humor, yes, despite all what I’ve said above. Mr. Smithereens could be a witness and tell that I was bursting in laughter in bed (my copy is a huge hardback I couldn’t take on my commuting reading sessions). The off-off-Broadway experience with ageing, inebriated actors who pass out on stage and leave their fellow actors to improvise for a whole act… The worst is that I know from experience those beyond-bizarre theatre stuff here in Paris.
  2. New York, New York. These days I crave New York, I dream of New York (we’re not getting there anytime soon, I can’t face a transatlantic flight and jet lag and time difference with Baby S just yet). There’s a lot more to the 1970s than I previously thought: the pre-Aids sexual energy, the Carter / Reagan choices… “Emma who saved my life” is the fascinating portrait of NYC in the 1970s as seen through a few individuals, the mix between naïve hopes and dreams of a generation, “having the best time of your life”, and the disillusion, the sobering realization that at some point you have to settle for things different from your dreams. I guess that it is a great metaphor for the city’s evolution as well.

One reason why I took this book and took this chance:

  1. Emily recommended it. And when the Queen of Memes names this book as a neglected classic, how can you not go find the book? I’m no queen, but I highly recommend you do the same.

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