Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison

Some women clutch their momma stories close, the hows and wheres and whens of making another life.  Lucy had told me how she'd started drinking water straight from the Atlantic Ocean when she was pregnant with Dora.  She'd skimmed waves with her fingers and then cupped her hands to drink.  My story was the ugliest one I could think of, vomiting on the highway and waiting to bleed in the desert, eating myself sick between the outsize dresses of another woman's brokedown dreams.  (from The Gin Closet, pages 80-81)

It's hard to believe The Gin Closet is Leslie Jamison's first novel.  From the very first page, I fell in love with Jamison's beautiful, metaphorical prose.  It's been awhile since I've read a book written in this style, and Jamison reminded me why it's my favorite.  Her writing is descriptive without being overly so, and despite the raw, harsh words, she creates brilliant images that bring all the pain to life and make you really feel for her characters.

The Gin Closet is the story of two deeply hurt women, told in alternating viewpoints, and how they are unable to save each other no matter how hard they try.  The book opens with Stella caring for her dying grandmother, Lucy.  She's unhappy with her life in New York, working as a personal assistant to a beast of a woman and sleeping with a married man who doesn't care for her as much as she does for him.  Jamison provides few details about Stella's childhood, but she seems to have a shaky relationship with her activist lawyer mom, Dora, and her many troubles lead to anorexia -- a disease that in some ways empowered Stella, gave her a sense of control.  Stella is a recovering anorexic, but the way she talks about the years in which she starved herself makes it seem as though there's some pride involved.

Nearing death, Lucy calls out for Matilda, and Stella learns she has an aunt and wonders why she was never told of Tilly's existence.  Rather than allow her mother to send an impersonal message to Tilly informing her of Lucy's death, Stella decides to deliver the message in person.  Tilly's story is even more painful than Stella's, involving a history of alcoholism, prostitution, and abuse.  Jamison gives Tilly a voice that is so raw and honest, it almost physically hurt reading her story.

The Gin Closet is a character-driven novel, and the only real plot involves Stella and Tilly leaving their lives behind to start a new one with Tilly's workaholic son, Abe.  Jamison gives you a lot to think about, from the way Tilly and Stella display their pain in the way they treat their bodies to how their interactions with men account for much of their hurt.  The alternating viewpoint means readers get a chance to see events through the eyes of both characters, bringing to mind the differences between how people perceive themselves and how they are seen by the rest of the world.

Although the book is so heavy and so sad -- and in some instances downright disturbing -- I couldn't put it down.  The Gin Closet is hard to digest, and after turning the last page, I felt depressed.  I'm not sure what this says about me, but I like books that are dark and emotional, that really make me feel something.  My only real complaint about the book is that I wanted more resolution at the end for one of the characters.  Maybe I missed something, but I had no inkling of what was in store for her next.  Still, The Gin Closet is one of the best books I've read so far this year.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Gin Closet from Simon & Schuster for review purposes.  I am an Amazon affiliate.



© 2010, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce content without permission.

17 comments:

Serena said...

sounds like you really enjoyed this one.

Anna said...

Serena: I did! How could you tell? LOL

carolsnotebook said...

Sounds like a really tough, emotional read, which means not for me. One of those fabulous books that I'll just have to pass on.

Stephanie said...

I love character driven novels, especially those with beautiful, metaphorical writing. :-) Even though this sounds sad, I think it's something I'd enjoy.

bermudaonion said...

This book left me with a sad feeling too. I really enjoyed it, though.

Alyce said...

It's a rare thing when I'm looking for a sad and heavy book, so I probably won't read this one. Nice review!

Suko said...

Anna, what a riveting review! This sounds like a book I should read.

Anna said...

carolsnotebook: It's too bad you can't read these kinds of books because this one is really good.

Stephanie: I hope you give it a try!

bermudaonion: It's weird that something can be so sad but so enjoyable at the same time. Glad you liked it, too.

Alyce: Thanks! Sometimes I think my reading tastes are weird. LOL

Suko: Thanks! I do hope you give it a try.

Darlene said...

Great review Anna. I'd love to read this one.

MarceJ said...

I can't wait to read this one. I love emotional sad books so guess we are both weird :-)

Great review, 1st I have seen, I forgot I had this on my TBR list when it came out.

Tribute Books said...

Good review! must read. Thanks!

Aarti said...

I'm a huge fan of character-driven novels! I much prefer them to crazy plots. I will have to look into this one. Also like the title :-)

Diane said...

This one sounds excellent; I enjoyed your review. Thanks so much Anna!

Amused said...

I think this book is one I really want to read! Your review proved this!

Hazra said...

I'm not in the mood for tough emotional reads right now, but I'll put it on my TBR for later.

Jodie said...

This sounds great, I think I've heard about it before, something about the author trying to create a female character who isn't perfect or awful...

Anna said...

Darlene: I hope you get a chance to read it. I think you'd like this one.

MarceJ: Glad to know I'm not alone in liking dark, depressing books. I prefer to think of myself as eccentric. ;)

Tribute Books: Thanks for stopping by!

Aarti: I must admit the title and cover drew me in. Sometimes crazy plots are interesting, but I prefer crazy characters!

Diane: Thanks! I hope you give this one a try.

Amused: Thanks! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Hazra: You do have to be in the mood for this one, but I'm always in the mood for dark books. Hope you give it a try at some point.

Jodie: I didn't hear that, but the characters aren't perfect nor are they awful! Hope you give this one a try.