Holly Miller is struggling. First there’s her upcoming fiftieth birthday, an event that is “rushing at her like a freight train.” And she’s a writer who can’t write, vacillating between despair and ambivalence about her writer’s block — even with her young editor breathing down her neck. But those issues are nothing compared to her worry over her mother’s deteriorating health, or the fact that her only child is getting ready to leave for college. And then she’ll be alone . . . with her husband, Michael. Sturdy, dependable, artsy and adorable Michael.
But even Michael can’t save her this time.
Told completely in verse, Sonya Sones’ The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a novel unlike any I’ve read before. Sones’ poetry comprises all of Holly’s story, giving us vignettes of our narrator’s day-to-day life that are often poignant and hilarious.
Some are gems — moments of sparkly brilliance so bright, I had to actually set the book down for a moment. Others are comprised of the mundane, filling us in on Holly’s jealousy regarding her husband spending time with another parent or her terrible posture. But through and through, Sones’ characters burst forth between stanzas and painted a very realistic portrait of people I truly felt like I knew. In many ways, it was like reading a real diary.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I was able to appreciate this one in quite the way that others might. I’m hesitant to say this, risking everyone pelting me with tomatoes, but I actually think I was . . . too young.
Wait — don’t go yet! Before you reach in and smack my smug 25-year-old face, let me explain.
Holly is going through “the change,” you see, and I don’t just mean menopause (though that’s how the story opens). Her nest is nearly empty. Her only daughter, Samantha, is more than just a child — she’s Holly’s dear friend, and the light of her life. She and Michael aren’t quite sure how to function without her. On top of that, Holly is grappling with her own aging and fears for her mother, Myra, who is hospitalized and medicated for a myriad of illnesses.
I understood what she was going through — really, I did. And I could certainly appreciate the crystalline picture Holly paints of her emotions as she scuttles through everyday life, trying to adjust to the changing world around her. When she mentions feeling “homesick” while talking to Samantha, away at school, my heart twisted. “I don’t get it,” she writes. “Why do I feel homesick / when she’s the one so far from home?”
Maybe that’s why this one didn’t resonate for me the way I imagine it would for others, especially mothers: I didn’t let it. Though eight years her senior, I felt like I was Samantha — preparing to take flight and leave the nest, casting my own mother into a sea of anxiety and sadness.
And, you know. I have enough to worry about as it is.
So here’s the score, friends: I really enjoyed reading this book, gobbled it up in a matter of hours and felt sad that it ended so soon. That being said, I don’t think I was the best audience to fully appreciate The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus; it would be something I’d hand over to my mom . . . though I’m not going to. It would feel too much like her real, everyday life. And, like me, she reads to escape. It would be too painful.
So that’s my beef. Sones’ book is too real. At times, it actually hurt.
3 out of 5!