At the center of A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That
, Lisa Glatt's heroic, hauntingly honest debut, is Rachel Sparks, a thirtysomething college professor who moves back home to sit with her mother while the older woman succumbs to terminal cancer. Glatt frames Rachel's story against a backdrop of women who range in age from 16 to 60, all of whom struggle with the conflicting sense of power versus the chilling vulnerability that seems so essential to their roles as women.
Although Rachel's mother's fate is apparent from the first chapter, Glatt does a commendable job of keeping the reader interested in her characters throughout the entire novel. We follow Rachel as she jumps from man to man, focusing on minute details while ignoring the basic flaws that make these men so fundamentally wrong for her. Along the way we get to know Rachel's student Ella Bloom, who must confront her cheating husband after less than a year of marriage. Ella's days are spent at a women's health clinic treating patients like 16-year-old Georgia Carter, who repeatedly exposes herself to sexually transmitted diseases in the hopes that one of these boys will show her the real affection that she can't get at home. ("Other men and boys noticed Georgia. It was as if they saw straight up inside her, all that she had done ... She understood that her body belonged to the whole damn street.")
While Glatt does an admirable job of showing women's weaknesses--and strengths--when dealing with men, it is her remarkable understanding of the tumultuous relationship that women have with their own bodies that makes this novel unique. From mastectomies to reconstructive surgeries to abortions to virtually anonymous sex, Glatt skillfully demonstrates how complex a woman's relationship with both her body and mind can be, and the tremendous power one often has over another. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers Weekly
"A girl becomes a comma like that, with wrong boy after wrong boy," muses the narrator of Glatt's keenly observed debut. "She becomes a pause, something quick before the real thing." Rachel Spark, a 30-ish university poetry teacher, is looking for the real thing-but she's also living in L.A with her mother, "because she was sick and because I was poor.... It was love, yes, but need was part of it too." As her mother slowly succumbs to breast cancer, Rachel seeks solace-and escape-in the arms of various unsuitable men. Glatt's tone shifts through comic, pensive and mournful as she also explores the lives of Rachel's newlywed student, Ella Bloom; her lovelorn, allergy-challenged best friend, Angela Burrows; and Georgia Carter, a promiscuous 16-year-old patient at the health clinic where Ella works and where Rachel later seeks an abortion. Repeated references to breasts, limbs and organs in discomfort and disease foreground these women's uneasy relationships with their bodies and their lives; drunken and sorrowful sex abounds; connections with men are made and then broken. Rachel loves her mother, but disapproves of her shedding her wig, ordering a vibrator and falling in love in the face of death. As the dying woman-Glatt's liveliest character-evicts Rachel from her hospital room, readers may sympathize: much earlier, mother has diagnosed daughter, "You're thirty. Of course you need connection." Glatt's clear-eyed rendering of the complexities of relationships between friends and family enriches a story in which the steps toward healing are small and tentative, but moving nevertheless.
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