Monday, November 7, 2016

Nine Island by Jane Alison

Product DetailsI am on a never-ending quest for books set in Florida that I can read and review for The Florida Book Page, my monthly radio stint on our local NPR station WGCU. This can be more difficult than it sounds since I want to actually LIKE the book and consider it well written. What a pleasant surprise to open last Sunday's New York Times Book Review and find not one, but two new books that fit the description. I'll be waiting a while for John Grisham's "The Whistler," but "Nine Island," by Jane Alison,, a writer who is new to me, came in immediately. Now I plan to go back and read all her other books!

Advertised as a "non-fiction novel," a new one on me, this exquisite little gem of a book is melancholy yet hopeful, sad and funny and smart. Narrated by J, a woman at that precarious stage between youth and old age, who is wondering as the song goes, "should I stay or should I go?" From the floor to ceiling windows of her Miami high rise, she watches the toned bodies, the immoveable breasts, and the worked over faces of the women on the make and asks herself if it's worth it. Should she stay in the dating game or relinquish it for her literary pursuits.

J is a scholar of Ovid, as is the author. She is translating "The Metamorphoses," while pondering her own transition from the lush, sexual being she thinks she still is, to a woman who's given up on love. She reminisces about past affairs and a long, infertile marriage, and fantasizes about the toned young men who strut their stuff on the beaches and around the pools. When J is in the water she feels replenished, supple, lighter, more desirable, but ironically, the pool is in disrepair and about to be shut down indefinitely.

Living alone, J is curious about the comings and goings of some of her neighbors and they, in turn, are interested in her, especially N, the woman who beats J to the pool each morning and then disappears for the rest of the day in a whirl of mystery. N and her husband invite J for drinks. They want to know her better, whether she's contented with her life, with just Ovid and her old cat, or if she needs and expects more out of life.

This is not a novel for the impatient reader. This book reminds me of a good foreign film, contemplative and interior. It tantalizes and yes, it titillates. Alison has written a gorgeous meditation on life, on aging, on embracing what's offered and accepting that which we just may not be able to have.

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