Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Kim Addonizio’s new novel makes a gritty world shine

Kim Addonizio’s work first engaged me when I read her poems. There are gems in her collections, poems that just stop you cold. Poems like “Therapy,” “The Divorcee and Gin” and “Mermaid Song” should become classics—they’re like a favorite song replayed, instantly winging into your world like exotic little birds catching your eye. Her new novel My Dreams Out in the Street: A Novel is equally engaging.

The book is one part mystery, one part love story and one part epic. Addonizio creates a character we might bump into on the street—Rita Jackson. Rita is down on her luck, a scavenger, a survivor. At 13, she witnessed the murder of her mother and as a young woman, her husband disappeared. She moves from shelters to corners in public parks to seedy hotels to a married man’s bed, perpetually homeless and confidently desperate. She’s always looking for Jimmy, and she’s always on edge. Addonizio gets into Rita’s head with passages like the following:
Now anxiety was with her all the time, even when she got drunk; when she slept, her dreams were full of vague problems she worried over, trying to fix whatever it was, not able to figure out what was wrong. Her dreams were inhabited by specters. Or wolves. They looked like dogs but they were wild. She would be running from them, and then come up against the dread certainty that there was something worse up ahead, and she’d stop cold in her tracks, and the fear would drill into her.

Rita’s journey yields encounters with others who are homeless, with cops, detectives, and managers who run flea-bitten hotels. She is an empathetic character, but one we are constantly shaking our head over as well. Her redemption lies in finding Jimmy, her husband whom she still loves, and in solving the riddle of why, after a nasty argument, he didn’t come back to her. Running parallel to Rita’s story is Jimmy’s story, and we slip into his thoughts as he remembers the wife he left. Whether the two will meet again, coupled with the way Rita and Jimmy feed off one another despite their separation, is the mystery that keeps the reader turning the page. Add in a sub-plot involving Rita witnessing a murder and fleeing thugs, and the tension just gets tighter.

Addonizio’s latest novel is a binge read of a book; close the covers and you miss Rita, her shortcomings and virtues all rolled into one. The book deserves a wide audience—here’s hoping it achieves widespread success long overdue this talented author.

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