Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking

( 4 )


Critically acclaimed by reviewers across the country, Aoibheann Sweeney's beautifully written debut novel is a story of the profound human need for intimacy. For Miranda, the adolescence spent in her fog-shrouded Maine home has been stark and isolated? alone with her troubled father, a man consumed with his work translating Ovid's Metamorphoses, her mother mysteriously gone from their lives. Now, having graduated from high school, Miranda's father arranges for her to stay with old friends in Manhattan, and she ...

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Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking

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Critically acclaimed by reviewers across the country, Aoibheann Sweeney's beautifully written debut novel is a story of the profound human need for intimacy. For Miranda, the adolescence spent in her fog-shrouded Maine home has been stark and isolated? alone with her troubled father, a man consumed with his work translating Ovid's Metamorphoses, her mother mysteriously gone from their lives. Now, having graduated from high school, Miranda's father arranges for her to stay with old friends in Manhattan, and she embarks on a journey that will open up her father's past-and her own world-in ways she cannot begin to imagine.

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Editorial Reviews

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Sweeney's beguiling first novel begins when her protagonist is a mere three years old. Miranda's mother places a bowl of oatmeal on the table in front of her, leaves the house, and disappears into the thick Down East fog of Crab Island, Maine. Days later, the Coast Guard returns her body -- drowned in a boating accident.

Growing up an only child in a desolate landscape, Miranda cares for her father, a peculiar man who labors over his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The nymphs and gods of her father's manuscript become Miranda's companions; her only friend is a local fisherman named Mr. Blackwell, who tries to fill the space left by the death of her mother and the inattention of her father. But his presence, like most everything in her father's life, is complicated and unsettling.

Miranda's father makes arrangements for her to travel to New York for the summer following her high school graduation. Fearful of disappointing him, she embarks on an odyssey that will test old assumptions and open new doors. With delicacy and grace, Sweeney captures both the island and the city as Miranda finds her way, tentatively at first, but soon with growing confidence. A haunting story of loneliness and discovery, Sweeney's deft portrayal of Miranda's own metamorphosis results in a novel of lasting effect. (Fall 2007 Selection)
Ron Charles
The pleasure of this novel stems from Sweeney's gentle balance of comedy and sorrow, the predicaments of an odd girl hurtling through adolescence with little guidance. At times, she writes, "loneliness descended on me like a cold fog," but now and then she manages to go through the motions of "normal" teenage life, gossiping about boys and listening to cosmetics secrets, but it's always like trying to sing along with a melody she can't hear. Her only real friend is Mr. Blackwell, a kindly fisherman who helps maintain their house, often cooks their meals and seems to be her father's lover. The nature of his role, however, remains entirely unmentioned by anyone. At first blush, this reticence would seem to harken back to the pre-Stonewall days of a love that dare not speak its name, but in fact Sweeney is doing something far more modern. The gay relationships in this novel never become the subject of scandal, are never a source of pride, are never "accepted" in the face of an oppressive straight culture. Among Other Things isn't interested in looking at homosexuality as a socially constructed lifestyle or a biological orientation; in fact, although almost all the characters are gay, the novel doesn't seem interested in looking at homosexuality as a distinct and defining characteristic at all. Instead, Sweeney completely subsumes sexual orientation in a larger process of self-discovery, and with that subtle shift, she has moved from "gay fiction" to "post-gay fiction."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Sweeney's debut novel centers around Miranda Donnal, who grows up on Maine's lonely Crab Island, where her father decides to hunker down and work on his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Shortly after their arrival from New York, Miranda's mother dies in a boating mishap, leaving Miranda in the care of her withdrawn father, who is content to keep his nose in his books. A half-Indian local fisherman, Mr. Blackwell, becomes something of a father figure to Miranda, taking on an unusually devoted caretaker role-cooking for the Donnals, taking Miranda to school and serving as her confidante. Yet secrecy also shrouds Mr. Donnal and Mr. Blackwell's evolving relationship. When Miranda graduates from high school, her father dispatches her to New York City and a job at the classical studies institute he was molded by. There she begins to peel away myth after myth of the father she thought she knew as she falls in love and has her own revelations about intimacy and connections. Sweeney's prose effortlessly conveys her characters' isolation and evolution, and her portrayal of the aftermath of life's slights-big and small-make this coming-of-age better than most. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Miranda Donnal, wise beyond her years, lives on remote Crab Island with her brilliant but troubled scholar father, who is translating Ovid's Metamorphoses. She has almost no friends except Mr. Blackwell, who shows her how to fish and pilot his boat. Although authorities from the mainland believe that her father is endangering her education, by typing her father's handwritten translations Miranda in fact makes all the magical stories and myths part of her life. Miranda imagines her passage in their boat from the mainland to the island to be Phaëthon's ride in his father's chariot. In time, her father arranges for her to work at the Institute for Classical Studies in New York, where she is inevitably drawn deeper into her father's mysterious past. At the same time, she finds a whole new world in the glamour of Manhattan, and she pictures herself as Galatea, the statue who turns to flesh in her creator's hands, undergoing her own change after leaving the island. First-time novelist Sweeney has written an amazingly rich and complex coming-of-age novel. Highly recommended for all public libraries.
—Donna Bettencourt

Kirkus Reviews
A young woman moves from a small island off the coast of Maine to a larger island-Manhattan-where she learns both to adjust to a new life and to negotiate the shoals of her past. At the age of three, Miranda Donnal moves to Crab Island with her brilliant but preoccupied father. Shortly after, her mother disappears in the enveloping fog, a shadow among shadows. For the next 15 years, Miranda's father Peter works on a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, a book of changes that provides ironic counterpoint to the monotony of his own life. He lives in both the fog of coastal Maine and a fog of his own devising, for his drinking and the sea turtle pace of his translation distance him from his daughter, whose life is vividly connected to the gods, goddesses and nymphs of Ovid. When Miranda graduates from high school, her father arranges for her to work at the Institute of Classical Studies, a private learning center he had helped found in New York City before Miranda was born. In the weeks Miranda spends in the city, she has a brief fling with Nate, a Latin teacher at the Institute, and a deeper relationship with Ana, who runs a coffee concession. Along the way, Miranda begins to piece together the melancholic story of her father's past and ultimately realizes the depth of her love for this difficult and uncommunicative man. In her final epiphany, she tells Ana how "for a while I had lived in a world in which trees spoke and gods flew, and how I thought that if I waited long enough things would get marvelous like they did in the stories Ovid told, and become something else." In this novel, we watch Miranda "become something else" as she begins to move out of her loneliness and toward connectionboth with Ana and with her father. A lyrical debut novel of isolation and communion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143113416
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/24/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Aoibheann Sweeney earned her B.A. at Harvard University, where she won the John Harvard Scholarship and Elizabeth Carey Agassiz Award, and her MFA at the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. She has been a resident fellow at the MacDowell Colony and at Yaddo. She has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, and The Village Voice Literary Supplement. She is currently director of the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 22, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Surprise, Surprise, we found out who we were

    While the father completes a new translation of Metamorphosis, the daughter accomplishes one of her own. A little predictable, with characters that were extremely one dimensional, the book still held my attention through wonderfully descriptive and lyrically written moments. I'm sure the title of the book is and example of projecting the transitions of the characters and the most enjoyable parts were found in this type of descriptive format. Don't read this expecting a page-turner or a plot line that doesn't require some thinking. The strength of this novel is in its ability to maintain your interest while sometimes blundering through a morass of symbolism.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2008

    Once started, couldn't stop reading!

    The first part of this book takes you so deeply into the life of the character and her remote life with her father in Maine, it is hard to shake. In fact, I live in Florida and it was hard to remember where I was. Sweeney writes the thoughts of this character in a wholly original way, helping us see inside her loneliness, her connection to story, to nature, and to art. I read this book in less than 24 hours...simply did not want to stop until it was over. This character will stay with me for a long time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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