Feb 10, 2010

Jane Smiley

The breadcrumb trail is elusive. Sometimes it's an echo of itself, so faint that I wonder if it's there at all. Then something happens and a part of it comes shining through (book title!) and down the trail I happily go, like Dorothy following the yellow brick road, or Alice down the rabbit hole.

Why did this particular memory come back to me? I think it was around 1990. Sitting at a favorite restaurant with the mother of a high school friend, talking about his peculair situation, when the conversation turns to reading. Seems we share the inescapable love of purusing the printed word, and for some reason she mentions the author Jane Smiley.

Always one to follow a breadcrumb, off I scamper to the library and next thing you know I'm awash in Jane Smiley books. A Thousand Acres is her most famous, a modern take on King Lear, but I must have read a dozen or more Jane Smileys before being attracted to the next shiny object, like Gollum and that damned ring.

To refresh my memory, I Googled her and came across this wonderful list of books. It seems after 9/11 she took time off from writing to pursue 100 novels, not necessarily the greatest, but a representative sampling according to her preferences. You know what? Sounds like a fellow traveler on the breadcrumb trail to me.

But what I can't remember, at least right now, is which book left its tendrils in my mind so strongly that it resonates to this day, and my cursory Googlization bore no fruit. Can you help me out here? Her protagonist is a middle-age woman who one day walks away from her life and settles in a small town maybe an hour away from home. She takes a Joe job, starts a new life, simply starts over sans husband or kids or anything else. And finds something resembling contentment. Not an evil woman, she lets her past know she's okay, but what an exhilarating and oddball journey.

Please help me find this breadcrumb, and meanwhile enjoy Jane Smiley.

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