“Unless you love all of us, you don’t really love any of us” (71).
Margarettown is one of those wonderfully innovative novels that defies simple explanation. While it is essentially a reinvention of the old boy-meets-girl story, it is aptly described in promotional material as “part fable, part memoir, part journey through the many worlds of one woman.” More than the story of one man and his relationship with the enigmatic Maggie Towne, this novel is an exploration of love and of identity.
The novel is divided into six books, each of which focuses on a different aspect of Maggie and her life. Although the majority of the novel is in the form of a letter written by Maggie’s husband N. (we never learn his full name) to their young daughter, Zevin does not restrict herself to one narrative technique. While this can be disorienting for the reader, it is usually quite effective. “Susurrus,” arguably the most moving section, is also its most discordant, consisting entirely of a dialog between two not-quite-real characters.
Reading Margarettown is quite literally a journey of discovery. We begin the novel curious and confused, but, by the novel’s final pages, we realize that we’ve gained something just by reading it.
One of the things that makes Margarettown so special is how quotable it is. The little nuggets of wisdom strewn throughout the book are evidence of Zevin’s impeccable understanding of the human condition:
“Sometimes we lie optimistically. Sometimes, we say what is not quite true with the hope that it will come true” (8).That same insight is what informs this unique book, making it resonate with the reader.
“It is remarkable how closely boredom and happiness can resemble each other” (81).
“And, in love, more than most things, order counts” (151).
“When you experience the loss of a beloved, you somehow lose more of that person than you even though possible” (224).
Often compared to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife, Margarettown is indeed an unconventional love story. Beyond that, however, is little resemblance. Less fantasy that magical realism, Margarettown is more experimental and more challenging to the reader. And, although Margarettown seems overly complex at times, it is an ambitious debut and should be applauded as such.
Gabrielle Zevin is a screenwriter and novelist. Both Margarettown and her well-received young adult novel, Elsewhere, were originally published in 2005. Margarettown was shortlisted for the 2005
James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.