Step Lively: New York City Tales of Love and Change by Sherri Moshman-Paganos | Book Review

Author: Sherri Moshman-Paganos

Publisher: Self-Published

Published: May 12, 2022

Genres: Memoir, Historical Fiction

Pages: 148

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“I would give you all of my heart if you loved me!” – Sherri Moshman-Paganos

New York City is a hotbed of possibilities. Many have made it a tourist destination, an indulgent escape for entertainment, and a tamed overgrowth of expressionism performed with modest and courageous finesse. Others find the mythologized Concrete Jungle to be just that: hurdles of concrete and habit-forming jungle. Sporadic, sultry, serpentine, seedy, qualities that seem inescapable in The City That Never Sleeps. It is easy to feel wayward in a bustling place that people somehow call home. Step Lively: New York City Tales of Love and Change challenges and romanticizes the chase of living your dream through vicarious and pernicious vacillation in an idyllic and robust cityscape.

Told in vignettes, Sherri Moshman-Paganos presents a sidestep to the “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” trope of countless New York iterations. Jill, an artistic, ESL teacher, and Alex, a tidy, punctual lawyer, are the young New York couple who serve as the novel’s through line. Outside these vignette’s fuzzy edges, Jill and Alex experience the archetype characters, street vendors, store clerks, bums, and idiosyncratic apartment dwellers. The love in the stories can be categorized into want and need. The latter is missing and is overshadowed by the former. Diametrically opposed, Jill and Alex gripe and bemoan more than they give love and attention. Their relationship puts the “opposites attract” bid to rest in unceremonious ways; rather than understand each other and celebrate their differences (a love of need) they try to change each other indirectly and sarcastically (a love of want). When events happen to them, it comes from a passive and woe-is-me frame of mind. When they cause events to happen, it feels ordinary, obvious, and overbearingly referential to the point of cliché. References to New York are made, but they do not change the characters. New York anachronisms more or less solidify them.

Step Lively is written with the lens of a 1980s zeitgeist, its title referring to the exclamation of conductors for passenger pushers to board passengers onto subway transit. The phrase was introduced in 1904, then changed to “press forward” in 1908; either way, the experience described is linguistically pleasant rather than hurriedly unpleasant for Jill. Granted a trip down memory lane may always be the same, sometimes memory lane goes through bittersweet changes. The watershed moment of John Lennon’s death was used to good effect, presenting a metaphor of a good thing dying, innocence being lost, and the mixed, turbulent feelings of the characters at that time. Lackadaisical moments are far more prevalent however, trapping characters in the past. Grandmother Sadye haphazardly remembers her experiences growing up as an immigrant from Ellis Island and in New York. What is unbelievable and too convenient is Sadye’s lack of memory of a particular French tower. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France and the Eiffel Tower is also from France; even someone uneducated, a European immigrant, no less, could recognize this world famous landmark, either mentioned in passing or by image alone, after all this time. It is as if characters are so innocent that they are excused from consequences. A great deal of time is spent on emotional appeals and the logical side of things are safely overanalyzed, lambasted, and tucked away in a classroom. The times change, but the characters do not; if they do change, it is in minute, inconsequential ways.

Memory may not be reliable, but the angst and admiration it stirs cannot be ignored or idolized, only experienced. Step Lively holds the belief, to paraphrase Søren Kierkegaard, that it is better to experience reality rather than to solve its volatility. Margaret Atwood said we all become stories in the end, and as an addendum, memory will continue and change our stories for better or for worse. Step Lively shares that memory better to the detriment of reality.

Final Rating:

Red/Blue Pill

Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle | Book Review

Flat JacketAuthor: Jill McCorkle

Illustrator: Steve Godwin

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Published: July 2020

Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Pages: 320

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“A story is easier to fall into than your own life…”

– Jill McCorkle, Hieroglyphics


Memory and history share a disingenuous and diverting crossroads, much of which becomes a diluted and dilatable personal history. Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle, recounts the elder couple, Frank and Lil (look to the past), the first a history professor and the latter a dance instructor, from Boston, Massachusetts. They possess an unsaid understanding communicated on the visage of blunt and esoteric notes that last into their retirement in North Carolina. The younger couple, Shelley and Brent (look to the present), a stenographer and car mechanic, have an unofficial divorce, leaving this mother and wife to rear her unenlightened and impressionable son, Harvey, in North Carolina. Frank has unfinished business with his past and to complete it, he must visit Shelley’s home, his childhood home.

Two tragical epochs, Boston’s Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942 and the Rennert, North Carolina train wreck of 1943, challenge these tragical couples as they overlap each other in a time-bending way through mementos, keepsakes, notes, and personal effects. Much of Hieroglyphics is headspace work, a tedium that promises and processes mundanity. In this sense, memory is made a personal history where the past catches up with the present and vice versa. The innate truth (the absence of identity) and the adaptive truth (the loss of innocence) create a transformative internal conflict. The value of Lil’s hording tendencies and her hair-splitting plurality is not without its sincere reasons, as notional as they often are. Frank is a believable history buff, lost in times not his own as he comes to terms with a rocky childhood and an avalanching adulthood. Similarly, Shelley’s and Harvey’s inappropriate but wholesomely exaggerated use of escapism leave the mother and son stilted and siphoned as a family unit.

McCorkle’s novel succeeds in its sparsity or narrowness but also suffers from it. Circuitous paths lead to an ineffability, one that poses memory, however unreliable or indelible, as akin to living beyond any timeline’s marker. The bottleneck then, and a necessary one, is knowing what to part with and what to hold onto. The trouble is knowing and remembering the fragility and mystery of words said or written and unsaid or unwritten. Deciding between meaning and meanings, death’s forgetfulness and life’s displacement or life’s forgetfulness and death’s displacement, for posterity. Hieroglyphics leaves more unsaid than said through memory as history, leaves the pieces behind to be picked up again by the impromptu historians, and runs out of track long before the train has left the station.

Final Rating:

PillRate

Red/Blue Pill