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Margarettown Paperback – April 19, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
An unusual telling of boy-meets-girl, Zevin's debut reiterates female complexity through a husband and daughter's experiences with one surprising woman. N., the earnest narrator, describes meeting captivating, mercurial Maggie Towne when he's a grad student. They travel to her childhood home, Margarettown, where he finds no inhabitants save women named Margaret: there's giggling girl May, sullen teenager Mia, bitter middle-aged Marge, wise elderly Old Margaret and suicidal artist Greta, conspicuous by her absence. It's not giving much away to reveal that these women are all Maggie herself ("you won't find a woman in the world that doesn't have a couple other women inside her," she says), though whether Margarettown is a real place or N.'s invention is left in doubt. While the book's first half concerns N.'s struggles to love and understand the various manifestations of Margaret, the end belongs to their daughter, Jane, who reads her father's version of her parents' courtship after they both have died. In between, subplots—about N.'s happy-go-lucky guardian, Margaret's and N.'s adulteries, and N.'s rejected former girlfriend, who eventually falls for N.'s sister, Bess, and raises Jane with her—sometimes feel like padding on a conceit that would have been better expressed in a short story. But the story is darkly whimsical and Zevin's writing is both playful and touching. Agent, Jonathan Pecarsky at William Morris. (May) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In this fanciful first novel, a man called N. travels to Margarettown with a woman he loves named Margaret Towne. It is inhabited solely by four women: Old Margaret, who is 77 and can read minds; fiftysomething Marge, who is stout and hates men; 17-year-old Mia, who writes and draws constantly; and 7-year-old tomboy May. The novel is cast as a letter written by a dying N. to his and Margaret's daughter relaying their courtship and marriage. N. takes a great deal of poetic license in describing the many facets of his wife's personality, seeking to impart to his daughter something of the emotional truth of their relationship. The novel is, at times, an affecting portrayal of intimacy and how one's identity is impacted by aging and experience. It is also so elaborately conceived and executed that its artificiality can impede engagement. Conversations sometimes meander seemingly without point, and at other times, the points are made a bit too often and too insistently. Still, the novel can be deeply insightful about marriage, presenting it as equal parts bravery and foolishness. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This novel is a wonderful portrayal of how one's identity is effected by life experience and aging. At times I was afraid Zevin wouldn't be able to hold all her plots together but they came out at the end all neatly tied in a bow. This story is darkly whimsical and the writing lighthearted, yet poignant.
When N. meets Maggie Towne, he is a graduate student teaching assistant and she is a mysterious undergrad. N. is both frustrated and entranced with Maggie and will continue to feel that way the rest of his life. Their relationship moves fast and soon N. is on his way to upstate New York to visit Margaret's family in a town called Margarettown. There, instead of her parents, he meets Margaret's "family," the women who occupy her life. Old Margaret, Marge, Mia and May all live together in a house called Margaron. There is one other, Greta, who went crazy and killed herself. Still, Greta's ghost, her presence, is strong in the house. N. comes to realize that all these women are Maggie, or better said, Maggie is all these women. May is the carefree child she was, Mia the pouty and artistic teenager. Marge is the disappointed middle-aged woman she may become and Old Margaret the peaceful, reflective old woman. Greta is the dark side of Maggie, her fragile self barely under the surface.
How is N. to navigate a life with Maggie when she is ever changing and unpredictable? Can he love the bitter Marge and the damaged Greta? In examining these questions N. examines the nature of partnership and unconditional love. He examines his own successes and failures with Maggie and tries to understand fully the complex woman he is in love with.
Here the reader understands that Zevin is writing broadly about the complexity of all women and the challenges of all loves.
N. is not merely recalling his life with Maggie, reminiscing about the past and their love. He is dying and Maggie is already dead, and he is compelled to share the story with their daughter, Jane. For Jane, this story --- the story of N., Maggie and Margarettown --- will become the story, full of contradictions and metaphors, of her family and the mythology of the mother she grew up without. For Jane, N. tries to capture the elusive nature of Maggie and the magic of their love.
Zevin's prose is lyrical, funny, simple, elegant and bittersweet. The plot is interesting, original and magical, although verging on being overly contrived at moments. N.'s tale is part truth and part fairy tale, and he admittedly bends or reinterprets the truth as he writes for Jane (N.'s sister Bess, while demonstrating Zevin's point about the evolution of a woman through her lifetime and the transformative power of love, also serves as a voice of reason asserting itself from time to time throughout the novel). The Truth, Zevin seems to say, is subjective and often not as essential as the details.
MARGARETTOWN is a lovely short novel, a new type of love story: filled with classic romanticism and postmodern cynicism and introspection. Zevin is clearly talented and her first novel is highly recommended.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
It was so odd that I'm not sure I even know how to describe it. Margarettown is a physical place, yet somehow a symbolic representation of the many facets of a woman's personality. Sounds a bit strange, right? It is. Parts of it work well....and other parts were confusing and seemed disjointed. I'd love an author explanation of what she meant!
I'd read "Elsewhere" again, but this book - no. Skip it or, if you must, read a library copy. She *is* a talented author so I'll be looking for her next release, coming soon!
Since the author of the novel is a female, I found that one of the most compelling features of the book was that the story is told MAINLY from a male's point of view. At first I found that to be awkward, but after reading it I changed my mind. Once I completed this novel, I was very satisfied. It was a short book and an easy read. I felt that the ending was appropriate and realized that if the beginning didn't have so much stress on just two topics, then there would be no point to the story. This isn't an immature novel, but when recommending this book, I belive that the young adult reader may enjoy it a little more. Generally it MAY be more preffered to a younger audience. Overall, Gabrielle Zevin definately produced a great first novel that is worth reading.
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A true disappointment