Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Opposite of Love, by Julie Buxbaum

My sister-in-law Kathy recommended The Opposite of Love, the first novel by Julie Buxbaum. Buxbaum drew on her experience as an attorney with a New York litigation firm in creating her protagonist, attorney Emily Haxby. Emily uses an ironic attitude to mask her serious problems--but her close friends and Buxbaum's readers see through the mask early on.

What are her problems? Her mother died when Emily was a teenager. Her father, the lieutenant governor of Connecticut, avoids engaging with Emily and his own father (Grandpa Jack) because he's "busy running Connecticut," his excuse for never showing up when needed. Grandpa Jack is dying. Emily has broken up with her boyfriend Andrew, whom she loved, because he was about to propose. She drinks too much. And, at work, she is assigned to a morally repugnant case under the supervision of a partner who sexually harasses her (in a fairly outlandish series of scenes). When she quits her job and Andrew rebuffs her efforts to reconnect, Emily sinks into a deep depression. Her friend Jess, a good therapist, and her grandfather's friend Ruth help pull her out of the depression, find her a new job, and give her the insight and courage to move forward. (Ruth, a retired judge, is one of the book's best characters, wise, funny, and--above all--caring.)

I enjoyed the book, but still have some quibbles. Foremost among them: The book's Prologue sets up the story as one that Emily is recording for her unborn child. I rarely find this kind of device effective (although I have read--I think in Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer--that many writers use this device because it helps them find the voice in which the story should be told). In this case, it struck me as ineffective and perhaps even counterproductive--ineffective because the book really doesn't seem to me to have the tone you would use in writing to your unborn child (even if you were a thirty-something smart alec) and counterproductive because it signals that the book is going to end happily, removing the possibility that the book might, in fact, be a tragedy.

Favorite passage:
This is a place where, for just a little while, the lack of noise is soothing, expected. I walk under the canopy of trees again and out through the front drive. I pass the stone wall. I tape it lightly with my fingertips. And then I walk out of the Putnam Cemetery and leave the silent and the lost behind, once and for all.

(Okay, maybe my favorite passage is when Emily says she won't shake hands with people at work because of what might be on their hands...but it's too gross for my G-rated blog.)

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