An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris

by Stephanie LaCava
     
 

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A haunting and moving collection of original narratives that reveals an expatriate's coming-of-age in Paris and the magic she finds in ordinary objects

W hen Stephanie LaCava's father transports her and her family to the quaint Parisian suburb of Le Vésinet, everything changes for the young American. Stephanie sets out to explore her new surroundings and

Overview

A haunting and moving collection of original narratives that reveals an expatriate's coming-of-age in Paris and the magic she finds in ordinary objects

W hen Stephanie LaCava's father transports her and her family to the quaint Parisian suburb of Le Vésinet, everything changes for the young American. Stephanie sets out to explore her new surroundings and make friends at her unconventional international school, but her curiosity soon gives way to feelings of anxiety and a deep depression.

In her darkest moments, Stephanie learns to filter the world through her peculiar lens, discovering the uncommon, uncelebrated beauty in what she finds. Encouraged by her father through trips to museums and scavenger hunts at antiques shows, she traces an interconnected web of narratives about outsider figures and of objects historical and natural that ultimately helps her survive.A series of illustrated essays that unfolds in cinematic fashion, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects offers a universal lesson—to harness the power of creativity to cope with loneliness, sadness, and disappointment and find wonder in the uncertainty of the future.

Editorial Reviews

Dani Shapiro
“This captivating, wonderfully strange little book is like no other I’ve ever read. Stephanie LaCava has created something original and true, at once emotionally resonant and intellectually challenging. A sheer delight.”
Matchbook Magazine
“Its brilliance lies in the depth in plumbs. . . . Stephanie LaCava, along with the lovely illustrations throughout the book, shows us just how extraordinary these odd things are.”
Minnesota Public Radio's "The Daily Circuit Blog"
“Truly a lovely book in every sense.”
Interview Magazine
“With help from Matthew Nelson’s elegant drawings, the worldly LaCava impresses by unearthing hidden treasures from a painful youth.”
Booklist
“What cleverly fills the honeycomb of LaCava’s own story is a compassionate, evocative biography of seemingly aberrant things and a collection of historical anecdotes that most readers would never otherwise learn, let alone find gathered all together in one small (but not diminishing), deliberate, and careful book.”
Flavorwire
“A series of wistfully illustrated essays. . . . A strange and lovely journey.”
Publishers Weekly
Fashion writer Lavaca’s childhood and teenage years were strange and confounding. The author’s family moved from New York to a Parisian suburb in 1993 when she was 12; the next year she suffered a breakdown. Always considered a bit strange as a child, she found solace and a sense of order in collecting objects. She had a passion for ancient mythologies: “I was obsessed with cabinets of curiosities, historical efforts to catalog and control nature’s oddities,” Lacava writes. As an adult Lacava began looking back over her life “through a narrative illuminated with objects and their respective stories.” As the author began researching her objects, she discovered unlikely links between them and “certain people who reappeared throughout the stories” of such objects as a skeleton key found in the backyard of her new home in France; a fiery antique opal necklace found on the sidewalk following a jaunt to a neighborhood sweet shop; a CD containing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; and the camera she always carried on her journeys around France. “For me, it is my story of conquering another world, a place where in order to survive I needed to seek out wonder,” Lacava explains. In the end, this is an unusual journey through one girl’s material and sometimes painful interior world. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
A self-consciously odd coming-of-age memoir in the form of essays about places and objects. A fashion writer and blogger, LaCava suffered some sort of depressive breakdown as a teenage American transplanted to France, but the details are sketchy, particularly in comparison with footnotes that often run longer on the page than the main text. "My strength with the written word," she writes, "is the ability to make unlikely subjects somehow connect, a capacity that has never been my strong suit in life. I had never been patient enough to believe that looking back my sadness would all make sense. But it does now." To the writer, perhaps, but not necessarily to readers, who may also have trouble appreciating the connections she sees. Much of the memoir concerns her adolescent "boredom verging on insanity, locked inside with my little belongings and endless ruminations." Then there are the footnotes on the objects that became talismans, such as a skeleton key she found: "Consider the power of the early locksmith: his still was synonymous with security, and knowledge of his craft was hard to come by, as talented locksmiths didn't want to share their secrets," she writes by way of preamble to an explanation that runs three times as long. Ultimately, LaCava married (which we learn about in the acknowledgements) and learned from a reunion with a French classmate that he (and presumably others) hadn't considered her so troubled, that all kids passed through that difficult stage, but she was correct that the other girls hadn't liked her much. "These sorts of conditions never fully go away," she writes. "I'd presented my childhood as full of whimsy and mystery rather than sadness, so much so that I'd started to believe this version as well." There's a thin line between precocious and overly precious, and this literary debut steps well across it.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061963926
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
11/19/2013
Series:
P.S.
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
423,532
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.40(d)

What People are saying about this

Dani Shapiro

“This captivating, wonderfully strange little book is like no other I’ve ever read. Stephanie LaCava has created something original and true, at once emotionally resonant and intellectually challenging. A sheer delight.”

Meet the Author

Stephanie LaCava is a writer working in New York and Paris. Her work has appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Vogue, and other print and online publications, including The Paris Review and Tin House.

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