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Monday, November 17, 2008

Adventures in growing up

The genre is far from dead, but in contemporary stories its approach has changed. Characters can come of age or "become themselves" over the course of a lifetime. Their lives can be depicted through a series of smaller incidents that mark change, and they tend to be more reflective on their pasts. Just like real life.

Ann Charney's Distantly Related to Freud is such a book, opening with a quote by Freud himself, claiming, "Only a good-for-nothing is not interested in his past." The reader is introduced to a distant relative of the famous psychiatrist, the plain-named Ellen. Ellen at 8 is entirely familiar and relatable. Charney gets it all right here: a child learning to be a little sneaky, one who is curious, imaginative, creates adventure but loves comfort. She is flawed and likeable and very real.

Ellen and her mother are wanderers, a financial necessity painted as adventure by Ellen's mother, whose family escaped a life full of darkness. The European refugees who board with the family are the first living proof of the realities outside their Montreal home of the early 1950s. Young Ellen witnesses passionate arguments in the nighttime hours from the refugees, delivered in languages foreign to her ear. She wants to know more but is denied, and so is the reader, but this is a stylistic choice, not a misstep. Charney sticks faithfully to Ellen's experience, which, as she grows, is loyal to the ordinary, to the experience of a girl with her own adventures on her mind. Read more...

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