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Hitching To Nirvana: a novel by Janet Mason Paperback – November 1, 2010
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About the Author
Janet Mason is an award winning writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry whose literary commentary is regularly featured on This Way Out, an international radio syndicate based in Los Angeles and aired on more than 400 radio stations in the U.S. and also in Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. She is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, including When I Was Straight (Insight To Riot Press) and a woman alone (Cycladic Press). She teaches creative writing at Temple University Center City in Philadelphia. You can visit her at www.amusejanetmason.com
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Using the narrative method of jumping back and forth between 2004 and 1977 Mason makes her main character Adrianne a professional photographer who left her Levittown home at the end of high school to make something of herself. But now in 2004 she returns home to care for her failing father (some of the finest descriptive writing about the tragedies of an aging brain and body!), discovers her high school friend and companion is dead and through connecting with some of her past friends she relives those tumultuous years finding that each of her clique fell victim to life choice mistakes that Adrianne has avoided - or has she? We move back and forth to those 1977 high school years when Adrianne, Diane, Helen, Art, and Thea were the equivalent of the Greek Maenads, female worshippers of Dionysus, the Greek god of mystery, wine and intoxication. They were usually truant, victims of dysfunctional homes, high on cannabis and other drugs and alcohol, in some cases participating in obsessions with sexual excess, and facing the realities of unplanned pregnancies etc. Adrianne stands apart from some of these excesses: she is more involved with Diane on a different level that with the others. Mason slowly unravels the fates of these girls as they become women and focuses on Adrianne's need for connection with The One and the Familiar Stranger and the poetic manner in which she shares these strains of thought is what makes this book at once unique in its story and universal in the comparison with mythology.
But returning to the author's choice of title, it refers to the fact that her high school group of girlfriends often hitched rides - because they were young and without driver's licenses and because they were usually incapacitated with drugs and alcohol to drive, or because they encountered men driers willing to give them a lift with conditions attached. At any rate what the girls wanted was a path to Nirvana -'the ineffable ultimate in which one has attained disinterested wisdom and compassion'. What Janet Mason provides in this her first full novel of fiction is a story that attaches us to the one character who strives to be more, and she leaves us with the character of Adrianne who will remain in our psyches for quite a while. Grady Harp, December 10
This was my experience reading Hitching To Nirvana, a novel by Janet Mason. Although the whole work can be classified as prose, it is written on many pages as poetry. The story opens as Adrianne, the narrator, struggles to hold on to what she has built her life around - her long-term relationship of 20 years--as she faces a midlife crisis. I identified with many of the pressures in Adrianne's life - caring for her elderly father and suddenly wanting to flee from everything in her life because facing his mortality is the last thing she wants to do.
Returning to the working class tract house neighborhood where she grew up (to care for her father), she finds herself confronting the ghosts of her adolescence in the 1970s. Like many of her generation, she sublimated her lesbian feelings in drugs and alcohol, but comes to realize that she loved the pack of wild teenage girls (modern Maenads) that she hung out with. Most of her girlhood friends did not make it to adulthood, but Adrianne survives to tell the story and also to put the pieces of her life back together.
Hitching To Nirvana addresses many issues that have, sadly, not gone away, including substance abuse and LGBTQ teen suicide.
My own losses have been different, but reading this novel helped me put those losses in perspective and ultimately it helped me to understand my own life in a new way.