Living Room
Rachel Sherman
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Buy *Living Room* by Rachel Sherman online

Living Room
Rachel Sherman
Open City Books
288 pages
October 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Spinning a bleak tale about mothers and daughters, Sherman sharply contrasts the confusion of adolescence with the ramifications of loneliness from within. This is a family so self-absorbed in their prospective worlds that there is little room for any kind of compromise.

Fifteen-year-old Abby has a strained, distant relationship with her mother, Livia. Neither seems capable of agreeing throughout this difficult period of turning inward. Hence, Abby’s young life is frequently characterized by rebelliousness. Her partner in crime is Jenna, who flashes her lacy bra while the pair clandestinely smoke cigarettes outside Abby’s bedroom window and hang out at “the living room,” a secluded area outside the school grounds made up of a rotting old red leather couch.

“As if a cloud were being suffocated, trying to get out,” no one actually owns the living room, and it is too far out to worry about teachers. Here the vulnerable Jenna and Abby find solace with Alec and Chess, two boys from school. Abby’s home life has not been happy. Livia is distracted, eating like a fat man, gorging herself on pre-made onion dip and chips, noting her dreams in a Word document and neglecting to share them with Jeffrey, her husband.

Dragged down by dreams colorful and filled with wishes, Livia’s journey is one of quiet conflict and an absolute sense of human frailty in the face of Jeffrey’s detachment. Later, when Livia offers to redecorate the house of gorgeous Simone and her partner, Gail, there’s a hint of attraction and perhaps envy at their seemingly perfect and privileged lives.

There are also issues with Headie, Abby’s grandmother, who is gradually deteriorating. Lying on her bathroom floor, Headie watches a series of dancers twirling, still colorful and still faceless. In her closet hangs the pink and white nightgown she plans to be buried in when she dies, with a note pinned to the hanger: “Bury me in This.”

Shut up in her apartment, Headie sends emails to her family and remembers her life with her two husbands, “two rings, two men, one bigger than the other,” Gene a sweet man who never asked for much even though she never really loved him. Later she remembers life with Allen, who seduced her in the back room of a department store, noisily knocking against the winter clothes.

Sherman’s women are spectators dancing on the edge of her stage, all terribly burdened by their internal lives. Her novel is as simple and as powerful as the bleak winters on Long Island, where her story takes place. Throughout, Abby remains at the center. Her secretive liaisons with Jenna, where she almost kills herself with vodka, give the story added heft. Showing the ramifications of loneliness from within, Abby, Livia, and Headie’s narcissism propel this novel’s rock-hard realism and pitiless sense of urgency forward.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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