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by Gabrielle Zevin

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In the playful tradition of The Time Traveler's Wife and the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes an enchanting story about love in its many forms, and a man's timeless journey into the unknowable territory of the woman he loves. From the moment they first sleep together-piled atop seven mattresses in her dorm room-N. is pulled ineluctably into a rich and


In the playful tradition of The Time Traveler's Wife and the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes an enchanting story about love in its many forms, and a man's timeless journey into the unknowable territory of the woman he loves. From the moment they first sleep together-piled atop seven mattresses in her dorm room-N. is pulled ineluctably into a rich and enchanted relationship with Margaret Towne, a woman who will introduce him to worlds he never dreamed existed.

Editorial Reviews
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Readers who enjoyed exploring the power and limitations of love in The Time Traveler's Wife and The Confessions of Max Tivoli will find a similarly magical set of circumstances at work in Zevin's tenderhearted novel. The narrator of this tale, simply known as "N.," is a teaching assistant who falls in love with one of his students, Margaret Towne. Though his love is reciprocated, it comes with a caveat. For Maggie declares she is "cursed." Undaunted by her admission, N. wants to marry her, so Maggie takes him home to meet her family. But it doesn't take long for N. to realize that something very strange is afoot in Margarettown; for Maggie's family consists of a handful of women -- of varying ages -- each of whom carries a name derived from that of his beloved.

Zevin's novel takes several unusual turns as she leads readers on a survey of the many forms of love. Ultimately, the tale is revealed as a kind of diary, which N. has written for his daughter. But the narration changes midstream, and Maggie gets a chance to tell her side of the story before handing it off to the couple's unborn children. In Margarettown, Zevin ingeniously demonstrates the challenges faced by an enduring love, during which time the beloved changes, only to become a conglomeration of many different personas. (Fall 2005 Selection)
Gabrielle Zevin
". . . effectively taut prose."
Entertainment Weekly
Publishers Weekly
An unusual telling of boy-meets-girl, Zevin's debut reiterates female complexity through a husband and daughter's experiences with one surprising woman. N., the earnest narrator, describes meeting captivating, mercurial Maggie Towne when he's a grad student. They travel to her childhood home, Margarettown, where he finds no inhabitants save women named Margaret: there's giggling girl May, sullen teenager Mia, bitter middle-aged Marge, wise elderly Old Margaret and suicidal artist Greta, conspicuous by her absence. It's not giving much away to reveal that these women are all Maggie herself ("you won't find a woman in the world that doesn't have a couple other women inside her," she says), though whether Margarettown is a real place or N.'s invention is left in doubt. While the book's first half concerns N.'s struggles to love and understand the various manifestations of Margaret, the end belongs to their daughter, Jane, who reads her father's version of her parents' courtship after they both have died. In between, subplots-about N.'s happy-go-lucky guardian, Margaret's and N.'s adulteries, and N.'s rejected former girlfriend, who eventually falls for N.'s sister, Bess, and raises Jane with her-sometimes feel like padding on a conceit that would have been better expressed in a short story. But the story is darkly whimsical and Zevin's writing is both playful and touching. Agent, Jonathan Pecarsky at William Morris. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
N. is just the teaching assistant for the course in moral reasoning. When he knocks on Margaret (Maggie) Towne's door to find out why she hasn't attended class for half the semester, he is doing what the university asked him to do: champion personal attention. This small act turns into a life-changing event as he falls head over heels in love. Soon after graduation, N. and Margaret are on the road to Margarettown so that she can introduce her fianc to her kooky family-May, Mia, Marge, and Old Margaret. The town in upstate New York seems both real and imagined and serves as the place where N. bonds with Margaret despite her claims of being cursed. As the narrative progresses, the reader realizes that this tale is being told in the form of a letter from N. to his daughter, Jane, as he tries to explain his life with Maggie. Related through dialog, internal monolog, truths, and half-truths, Zevin's debut novel about a couple dealing with the ups and downs of marriage, infidelities, a child, separation, and death is an original look at love and how you never really know your beloved. Recommended for public libraries.-Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
When you love Margaret Towne, you love all the Margaret Townes. At first, it seems this is going to be another tale of a young intellectual's obsessive romance with a slightly younger and much crazier, if fascinating, woman-Sterile Cuckoo for a new generation-but, happily, it becomes something even stranger. "N," a teaching assistant in philosophy at a nameless university, falls for Margaret Towne when he comes to her dorm room to find out why she has yet to attend a class. She says she feels tired, "like I haven't slept in years and years," and then says that N., too, looks tired-would he like to sleep there? N. wakes the next day thoroughly besotted with the mercurial Margaret, who seems to drift through life motivated by shadowy inner urges and with a whole closet full of secrets that N. spends the rest of the time trying to parse out. This fractured love story, it soon turns out, is being written as a letter by a sick and dying N. to his young daughter, so she can learn about her parents. The central question-who is it that N. actually loves?-is raised when, not long after their relationship has begun, Margaret takes N. to meet her family in, yes, Margarettown. Just how far the story departs from reality isn't clear, though once N. meets the family, we know that something is different. There's happy young May, surly teenager Mia, bitter and middle-aged Marge, and the self-explanatory Old Margaret, all seeming to resemble a certain love of N.'s, though at different periods in her life. Newcomer Zevin, who will publish a YA novel in the fall, takes this scenario and runs with it, though gently, never working overly hard to push her characters into emotional extremis but allowing N. andMargaret to muddle pleasantly through their baffling life, chasing after the idea of what it means to be in love with one person (do you love all of them? or just one?). A droll piece of romantic whimsy, with an unexpected resonance.

Product Details

Miramax Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
0.81(w) x 8.50(h) x 5.50(d)
Age Range:
3 Months to 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


When I first met Margaret, I lived in a basement apartment. The rent was reasonable, and the location was better than I might have afforded otherwise. The view from belowground was interesting, if not ideal: shoes and sometimes a bit of calf, small dogs, up to one-third of toddlers. I learned to recognize my own visitors by their shoes. At that time, my only regular callers were my sister, Bess, with her atrocious faux-suede sandals, and Margaret, whose footwear varied with her mood.

I lived a strange basement sort of life. Distinctions between night and day seemed less important. Insects and other vermin, unseen in respectable aboveground places, were my habitués. When snow melted, the apartment flooded. On garbage day, I had to keep my windows shut. The apartment refused to heat and maintained a year-round temperature of forty-six degrees. Even the tenants who lived above me seemed to approach me with suspicion. Living in a basement had somehow made me that guy who lives in the basement.

The only furniture I had I’d stolen from the university where I was a graduate student at the time. Instead of a real bed, I had two extra-long twin mattresses. When I slept alone, I stacked the mattresses on top of each other. When I had a guest, I laid them side by side and pushed them together. For the last year, my guest had been one Margaret Mary Towne. In those days, she was called Maggie.

Despite my best efforts, the mattresses would never stay together. A mysterious gap would always form between the two during the night. Maggie and I would end up adrift on those twins like castaways from a fifties television show. One night, she crawled into my twin. She claimed she was cold and she never left.

On the night after Maggie graduated from college (she was older than most of the students, twenty- five), I awoke to find her sitting in the gap between the mattresses. She was holding her knees to her chest and sobbing quietly. Her face was covered by her long, straight, red hair. I asked her what was wrong, and for the longest time, she didn’t answer me.

“I’m cursed,” she said finally.

“No, you’re not,” I said, and then thought better of it. “Well, what do you mean ‘cursed’?”

“There’re things about me,” she insisted.

“What things, Maggie?”

“There’re things about me. When you find them out, you’re going to despise me, I know it.”

I assured her that I couldn’t despise her and that, in point of fact, I loved her.

“I’m not who you think I am. I mean, I am, but there’re other parts, too. I’m only partly who you think I am. I’m not like other women.”

“Oh Maggie,” I said, “Maggie.” I was thirty-one at the time, and her dilemma seemed adorably early twenties. “Maggie, everyone goes through this when they graduate.”

She peered out from under her veil of hair. She shook her head and shot me a withering look indeed. “If things change after tomorrow...If things change for the worse, I mean. ..This time we had, these months were perfectly gorgeous. I loved this basement. I loved us in this basement.”

She kissed me on the forehead in what I felt was a slightly condescending manner and, for the first time since her migration, returned to the other bed to sleep.

For the rest of the night she slept soundly but I, having been woken, did not. I lay awake, thinking of her. For all I knew, this had been her intent. I thought of Maggie on Commonwealth last December. We’d slept together once at the time, and I wasn’t sure if we were going to again. She laughed when she saw me and called my name. She didn’t wait for me to see her first.

“I’m glad I wore my good boots after all,” she said. “I was on my way out the door. I was wearing my winter clogs, but I decided to change at the last moment.”

I looked at her shoes. They were thin, black leather, pointy in the toe and heel, not very insulated. “These are your good boots?” I asked.

She laughed. “Compared to my clogs, yes. Maybe you don’t agree?” And she laughed again. “I had that feeling you get when you know you’re about to run into your ex or some other man you should like to be handsome around. I didn’t know it would be you.”

“If you had, would you still have worn them?”

She cocked her head and smiled slowly. “I would have,” she said, “yes.”

That slow smile. Jesus Christ.

In the other twin, Maggie snored, and I thought of her on the day I told her I loved her.

“I love you,” I said. A car honked just as I said it, censoring me. I wasn’t sure if she had heard me and I had to repeat myself. “I love you.”

She seemed to be perplexed or pleased (on Maggie’s face, always slightly opaque, these emotions could register the same way), but she said nothing. After a moment, she ran down the street.

Six or so hours later, the phone rang. “I love you,” she said, and then she hung up.

As for the gap, did it make it mean more or less? Had there been no gap, I would have known she was saying it by instinct, which could be good or bad. After all, if you shoot at a man, he will try to shoot you, too. With the gap, I knew it was not instinct. I knew she had considered my own declaration of love and her response to it for the better part of six hours. A lengthy deliberation, yes, but in the end, there was good reason to believe she had meant what she said.

When I told her I loved her, I was expressing an emotion that I did not quite feel at the time. I think I wanted to hear her response more than anything. Or maybe, I just wanted to say it. Sometimes, we lie optimistically. Sometimes, we say what is not quite true with the hope that it will become true. This time, it worked; I loved her for that gap.

From the window in my bedroom, I could see that the sidewalk looked light gray, which meant it was getting late or early, depending on one’s point of view. I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight. So instead, I thought of Maggie in bed, and how the first time I met her she was lying down.

Before I met her, I had seen her name (TOWNE, MARGARET M.) on a list of other meaningless names. She was a student in the section of a required philosophy course I was TA-ing. The semester was half over, and she hadn’t shown up to discussion section once or even bothered to buy the course packet. I left messages for her, sent letters, made a show of doing the things a teaching assistant is supposed to do. At that time, the university was championing a policy of “personal attention”: that U was really a small liberal arts college in the body of a large institution or some such nonsense. The policy meant I was supposed to at least meet TOWNE, MARGARET M. before I failed her.

She lived in a certain cinderblock dorm that was known for housing U’s misfits: the marrieds, the exchange students, the transfers, the “mature” students, etc. Every college has such a dorm. I took the elevator to her room with this reputation in mind. On her floor, several indeterminately foreign students were having a party. I was offered a bowl of a red and bubbly food by a girl in a leotard. I politely declined but asked if she could point me in the direction of Margaret Towne. With a sigh, the girl gestured down the hall.

Her name was written in purple ink on a dry erase board on her door. The top half of the “M” in Margaret and all of the “e” in Towne were erased. The handwriting was old-fashioned and precise, as if the writer had been taught penmanship (and probably not much else) in a one-room schoolhouse. I prepared myself for an empty-headed rich girl of the type that abounded at U.

I knocked on the door and, to my surprise, it swung open. The room was nine by seven, cinderblocks on three sides, rather like a prison cell. There wasn’t much space for anything other than the standard-issue extra-long twin bed. Seven or so mattresses were stacked on the bed frame. Atop the pile was Margaret Towne herself. Her long red hair was tangled and slightly matted. She had dark circles under her eyes and looked on the verge of tears or laughter, or maybe just exhaustion. [Jane, you might get the idea that seven mattresses would raise a person quite high, but U’s mattresses were exceedingly paltry. Seven of U’s were roughly the equivalent of two anywhere else in the world.]

“I’m so tired,” she said. “I feel like I haven’t slept in years and years.”

“Margaret, I’m the teaching --”

She interrupted me. “You look tired yourself.”

The way she said it, I almost felt like crying. “I am,” I said. “I am tired.”

“You can sleep here if you want,” she offered.

“Here in your bed?” I was incredulous.

“Here in my bed.”

And so I did. Offers like hers don’t come around every day.

I woke up the next afternoon, a Friday. She was looking at me.

“How did you sleep?” she asked.

“Well.” I yawned. “Margaret, what’s with all the mattresses?”

“I thought they would help me sleep, but it hasn’t really worked,” she said as she got out of bed. “I’m going to brush my teeth. I wanted to go before, but I hated to wake you.”

I lay in Margaret’s bed, feeling the happiness of the well-rested. I shifted to the center, and that’s when I felt it -- a lump. A small, but palpable, lump. I got out of bed and lifted up the first mattress. Nothing. Then the second. Nothing. And then the third, fourth, fifth, sixth. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. And finally, I lifted the seventh mattress, the one next to the bed frame. And that’s when I found it -- a pen. An ancient black Bic, slightly chewed on one end, the kind that comes ten for a dollar.

She reentered the room and cocked her head.

I held the offending object out to her. “You were sleeping on a pen.”

“A pen,” she said with a laugh. “Oh.” She took the pen from me and looked at it for a long, long time. She kissed me and thanked me and kissed me again. She happily returned to bed and invited me to join her. I did, Jane, I did.

“Margaret,” I began.

“I’m called Maggie,” she said. “When you say Margaret, I barely know who you’re talking to.” She smiled her slow, sleepy smile and rolled onto her side. “The pen. I wonder if it still writes.”

“Probably not. It looks pretty old.”

She persisted. “I wonder if it does, though.”

I saw where this was going, so I got out of bed and found a sheet of loose-leaf paper. To rouse the ink, I began doodling a sloppy infinity sign.

“Looks dead,” I said after about a minute. The paper was starting to rip from the pressure and the repetition.

“Keep trying,” she said. “Please,” she said.

And so I kept trying. I switched to a heart. And then the alphabet. And then I wrote my name. It was then that the pen started to work.

Margaret laughed. “I’m so happy,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m so happy, but I am.” She looked at the pen like it was the first pen ever. She looked at me like I was the inventor of the first pen ever. “Is that your name?” she asked, inspecting my work.

“It is,” I said.

“It’s a good name. I’m glad it’s your name. It’s a good, solid name.”

“Thank you, I guess.”

“The pen, it seems like a good sign, doesn’t it?”

I agreed that it did.

She read my name again and then she nodded.

“You’re the teaching assistant for Moral Reasoning, aren’t you?”

“I am,” I admitted reluctantly. “The head teaching assistant actually.”

“It’s total bullshit, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I agreed.

“It is,” she repeated. “Now, why don’t you come back to bed?”

And then I slept, but my heart was awake. She had this way of making you think that you were the first man who had ever discovered this particular plot of land.

The sidewalk was turning a yellowish color, which meant I had been up all night. I looked over at Maggie.

Her red hair was everywhere; her eyes were puffy; her breath was awful; she had a hint of mustache. All at once, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this woman, cursed or not. There was nothing that could happen, nothing she could say or not say, nothing she had done or would do, that would change it. It was 5 A.M., and I was sure.

Maggie had moved out of the dorm the week before. Her boxes lined the walls of my bedroom. (She had fit a surprising amount in that nine-by-seven cell.) On top of the box labeled MARGARET TOWNE—MISC. were a large ball of twine and a knife, among other packing supplies. I got out of bed and cut a three-inch piece of twine. Then I crawled into her bed and considered my girl as she lay naked atop the sheets.

One leg was bent and the other was straight, but both roads led to the same place: a small grassy hill in yellows and browns like wheat, secreting a well. (In those days, I liked to imagine that only I knew the location of that well.) And then, the plain of her stomach -- smooth and vast and soft and not quite flat. Across the plain were two more small hills -- lovely, lovely. And between those lovely hills, her neck was a narrow, white path. And her eyes were closed, but I knew they looked brown in some lights and gold in others. And she smelled like apples, and her cheeks burned like a set of porch lights, and her hair was red like faded tiles on a Spanish roof. And all this land would be mine, I thought as I tied a bow around her finger.

“What are you doing?” she asked drowsily.

“It’s so I don’t forget.”

“Forget what?” she asked.

“The thing I want to remember.”

“Shouldn’t you tie it around your own finger, then?”

“Go back to sleep. We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”

She flipped onto her stomach. A second later, she rolled onto her side and smiled at me. “I’ve made room for you,” she said. “If you want it, there’s room.”

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Margarettown 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Margarettown is simply one of the best novels you will read this year. This is a compelling story told in a bold and exciting way. I love reading books that try something new. Zevin pulls off brilliant storytelling techniques with what seems like effortless style. I don't want to tell too much of the story, and I recommend that you avoid reading plot descriptions. This is one of those stories that you should discover as you read it. I can't recommend this book highly enough!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am always looking for a good book and I found one here. I didn't respond emotionally to this book as a typically do when I read, but it was just so full of truth about human personality. I found myself underlining and quoting multiple lines in the book. I would recommend it highly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although this book has a great premise and its central theme resonates, its rendering is forced and heavy. The relationship between N.'s ex-girlfriend and sister smacks of gratuitous lesbianism and the turn into Jane's life stalled the novel's momentum so successfully that I felt as though I was crawling sullenly toward the last page. My bitter sense of disappointment lies in the feeling that this book was a great story that got away.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's nothing like the 'Time Traveler's Wife', which is what the person at my bookstore compared it to when I bought it. So, don't read it expecting the 'Time Traveler's Wife'. That's a fine book, but this is much more experimental and adventurous and lovely and ultimately, for me anyway, moving. 'The Time Traveler's Wife' is fantasy. This is magic realism. It's probably not for everyone -- i.e. people who don't like experimental or literary fiction should probably stay clear. But for those of you with adventurous tastes, a must!