Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

Read 8/3/12 - 8/14/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who like their fictitious families shaken, not stirred
Pgs: 242
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: Sept 2012

"Family" is a complicated concept. By definition, we are told a family is a group of people who live together; people of common ancestry; people united by certain convictions; a unit of crime syndicate operating under one geographical area (I'm throwing this one in for fun!)

It's no wonder, then, that the characters we come to know and love in Kathleen Alcott's debut novel The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets are as confused as we are about what family is. Ida, James, and Jackson - fiercely attached at the hips since infancy - have never known life without each other. Everything they've ever experienced has been experienced together. And so Alcott, by muddying the waters and confusing familial lines, sets the stage for a story about discovery, disappointment, and the severing of limbs you thought you would never be able to survive without.

When the novel begins, Ida - who grew up an only child and neighbor to brothers James and Jackson  - is struggling to deal with her father's ailing health and Jackson's absence, who we realize has recently ended their near-life-long relationship. As she shares stories from their childhood, listing every sweet and painful secret, we delve deep into a world where lines that were once crossed refuse to uncross completely.

How do you let go of someone who has become a physical part of you? Who do you talk to when the only people you've ever confided in leave you? Is it even possible to move on?

Alcott addresses love and loss and the terrifying reality of letting go as she seamlessly moves us through past and present day, through memories and back again. Her writing, which takes some time to get used to, sits uncomfortably on the tongue yet blossoms beautifully across the page.

As the story of Ida and James and Jackson unravels, the title of the book seems to become more of a question for the reader. Were Ida and Jackson meant to be together, as close to one another as their initials sit in the alphabet? Was there a shared magnetism simply due to their proximity - proximity of age, location, children of single parents? Would they have lived the same lives had their names/proximity to one another been different?

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