Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sonya Sones's The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

In Sonya Sones's lovely new novel in verse, The Hunchback of Nieman Marcus, the narrator is a woman in midlife.  Sones's light verse is both poignant and powerful.  The witty narrator, Holly, who is just entering her fifties, confronts hot flashes, empty nest syndrome, and her aged mother's need for a long-distance caregiver.   I am not only charmed by Holly's quirky outlook, but empathize with her sense of loss:  no more babies, not that she'd wanted any more; the sense that she and her husband have remained together because of their daughter; and her shock when her mother calls to say she has fallen out of bed and cannot get up. 

On Holly's 50th birthday, which has been "rushing at me/like a cinderblock wall while I try/in vain to slam on the brakes," she has her first hot flash.

It happens for the first time
on the very day I turn fifty--

a scrim of sweat
cloaks my body,

beading on my upper lip,
misting on my forehead,

gathering in a steaming pool
between my shoulder blades

as if a tiny cup of liquid lightning
in each one of my cells

has just bubbled up, burst ablaze,
and cremated me,

to ashes,

to dust.
This is light verse, yet it strikes close to the bone.  Many of these feelings are covered up because no one wants to hear them.   Menopause is a relief-- no more tampons or sanitary pads--but at the same time it means you're not young anymore.  In our family we all have early menopause, which makes one feel MORE freakish. 

And how about the time at the supermarket when the hunky cashier looks Holly up and down?  She thinks he's flirting, but then he asks if she wants the senior discount.  

She calls herself the hunchback of Neiman Marcus after she glimpses herself in the mirror and notes the beginning of a dowager's hump.

I glance in a mirror at my own posture
and am appalled at how
my head's jutting forward,
as if it's trying to win a race
with the rest of my body.

I'm stunned by the gorrilla-esque curve
my spine seems to have taken on,
as though determined to prove 
once and for all
that evolution really did happen.

The light verse is engaging and well-wrought, though sometimes as a novel it breaks down.  There isn't much conflict or plot.   But it is  "chick lit" for women of a certain age, very good of its kind, and I liked it very much.


Ellen said...

It does look like just the sort of thing I read as a comfort book. :)Ellen

Frisbee said...

I very much enjoyed it. Yes, it is a comfort book, despite some of her harrowing adventures.