August 2007

Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking

By Aoibheann Sweeney
Review by
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Part The Shipping News, part The Awakening but mostly something uniquely its own, Aoibheann Sweeney's literary debut Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking is a textured story of a girl's life in limbo. Miranda lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her widower father and his fisherman friend Mr. Blackwell. On the lonely days when she doesn't make it to school, she spends her time typing her father's translated Metamorphoses manuscripts or sketching flowers in the garden. She drifts along through graduation existing more than living until her father sends her to work at the Manhattan institute he was formerly involved with. While living at the institute and learning about her father's mysterious past, Miranda downs coffee, explores her sexuality, flees a wedding and finally owns her choices.

The sparse dialogue, nearly absent inner monologue and detailed natural and nautical descriptions reflect Miranda's lack of social interaction as well as her inability to connect, even with herself. Sweeney's novel is a coming-of-age story, replete with her main character's quiet misadventures, yet it sets itself apart from other bildungsromans by not dwelling on or lamenting Miranda's slip-ups. It is honest and unapologetic, and the novel's promising sincerity steers it away from the snares of melancholia. The gradual awakening that Miranda cautiously opens herself up to in New York by discovering or discarding secrets is personal, disconcerting and ultimately liberating. Sweeney has extensive experience writing book reviews for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Village Voice Literary Supplement. Here she has constructed a hopeful tale that complies with the waves like a dory. Miranda's surprise at discovering herself in this foreign city doesn't shake her; she dives right in without ever getting too close much like Sweeney's approach to her characters.

Ultimately, Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking is a story of characters holding on to something or someone that keeps them from developing on their own. Whether it's fear or routine that restricts their movement, love is able to move them to interact with others, and finally be able to blossom.

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