Friday, September 30, 2011

REVIEW: Alice in Shtuppingland by Barrie Abalard

Alice in Shtuppingland is a story that’s so bizarre, so unpredictable, and so delightfully bewildering that you can’t help but try to dissect every chapter to determine what’s autobiographical, and what’s fiction. I intentionally saved reading the introduction (A Word About the Seventies) until last, precisely because I didn’t want to know in advance what was true. It’s a story that takes us on a bumpy, shaky, wooden rollercoaster ride through escaping domestic abuse, writing for an adult magazine (Cheekie), pretending to be a call-girl, and bedding two very different, yet equally fascinating young men.

Even if I hadn’t know going in that this was an semi-autobiographical take, the wealth of detail regarding every day nuances would have clued me in. The nostalgia here for a decade not that far removed from our own is apparent on every page, but it’s sweet and warm, as opposed to wistful and sad. Close your eyes and you can easily imagine yourself walking down the streets of Boston, hailing a cab (for a price that wouldn’t get you off the curb today!), and confronting a society that’s still reluctant to accept the idea of a strong, independent, sexually liberated young woman.

This is not so much a story about going anywhere in particular, or about trying to achieve anything specific. Instead, this is a story of escapes . . . of leaving something behind . . . of moving on. In that sense, it’s a story of limitless boundaries and a world of possibilities, with a courageous young woman open to whatever life places in her path. Much like Alice in Wonderland, it’s the journey that matters, and the characters we encounter who make that journey worthwhile.

Although a little flighty and rambling at times, I loved that the narrative sounded so sincere. Close your eyes once again, and you can all too easily imagine an older, wiser, yet still optimistic Alice narrating over the scenes, a la Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City. This is especially true of the short, sometimes sweet, sometimes poignant, “Survival Rules” that precede each chapter. It’s a story that’s fun, and often very sexy, but it does have its darker moments. Fortunately, they’re never dwelled upon or allowed to drag the story down, but they add some greater significance to the sense of escape, or moving on.

This is a book that begins with the haunting, tentative words, “I used to think, life sucks, and then you die. But now, I’m not so sure.” and ends with the far bolder rule, “Life may suck, but it also permits occasional happy endings.” I admit, for a while there I wasn’t sure a happy ending would really come, especially after Alice became pregnant, but it’s another instance of where leaving something (or someone) behind opens up a better tomorrow.

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