"Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage SEP 16, 2008)
"Among other things, I’ve taken up smoking. Ana says I should stop with the good girl/bad girl stuff, and obviously she’s right, but sometime when I have a cigarette in my hand and the streets are dangerously empty and I’ve had a few drinks after my shift and I am noticing the lights that are on the in different apartments. Lighting stairways and whole buildings, blinking red on the skyline, I think about the nights on the island when I was content to stand alone outside the house, listening to the fog horns in that soft blackness, and tasting the air, sweet with salt."
Aoibheann Sweeney’s sweet, poignant debut novel Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking is narrated by Miranda, the only child of a couple who move to a tiny island off the coast of Maine. Miranda’s father, Bill Holmes, moved to Crab Island to begin a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and shortly afterwards, Miranda’s mother drowns.
Miranda grows up in a solitary existence with her father who remains remote and uninvolved. A very capable local man named Mr. Blackwell intervenes upon several occasions, enrolling Miranda in school, and teaching her some fundamental skills. By the time Miranda is a teenager, she has few friends and doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone. When her classmates arrange to leave for college, Miranda is left floundering, and then her father arranges to send her to New York where she begins work cataloguing books in a small private library.
Moving to the completely alien environment of New York, Miranda gradually pieces together strands of her father’s past, and this knowledge sheds new light on her parents’ marriage. Since she’s grown up in the strange, isolated environment of Crab Island, she has accepted her father’s choices as normal, but working at the library, she enters a world in which her father once had a very different role. And as Miranda pieces together the fragments of her history, she simultaneously builds a future. She meets a young man named Nate, and their easy relationship seems to solve many of the issues she has with loneliness. In spite of the fact that she now has a more-or-less normal life, there’s something fundamentally missing, and in time, Miranda gains the courage to face the truth--not just about her past, but also the truth about her future.
It’s impossible to read the novel, thoroughly weaved with references to mythology without also making the connection to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. As a modern-day manifestation of the Shakespearean heroine, Sweeney’s Miranda is equally isolated and protected from worldly elements by her scholarly father who seems incapable of bridging the gap of the lonely glories of Crab Island with the realities of life in New York.
The allusions to mythology and comparisons with The Tempest never intrude upon the narrative, and the comparisons to Shakespeare’s play (if the reader chooses to make them) are both subtle and full of intriguing possibility. This modern-day Miranda must discover her own path in her journey of self-discovery, and her destiny ultimately lies beyond that which is easily offered.
- Amazon readers rating: from 11 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking (July 2007)
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- Wikipedia page for Aoibheann Sweeney
- Reading Guide for Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking
- The New York Times review of Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking
- PopMatters review of Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking
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About the Author:
Aoibheann Sweeney was raised in Massachusetts and attended Harvard University and the University of Virginia’s MFA Program, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow.
Sweeney has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, and The Village Voice Literary Supplement, and is currently the Executive Director of the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.