Ah, Sweet Life
Ah, Bittersweet Life would be a better title for this novel. Narrator Andy Gabe arrives in Chicago at seventeen from a dysfunctional home in New Jersey, then moves to a farming commune, from there to the streets of Boston, and winds up in the Pacific Northwest. Andy starts as a young woman scared about coming out, but connects with a vibrant gay community. She gains in professional skill and confidence as the story moves forward, collecting loyal friends and lovers along the way, before her life spirals downward.
The striking element of this work is its voice and Andy’s sharp observations. Young Andy is smart and competent, despite inexperience. This inexperience is apparent in the way she can take even a mundane event—chopping vegetables in a restaurant—and make it as interesting as the less ordinary life of a commune. It is all new to her; she is able to make it new for the reader. She is sensitive, and able to read people and cue her interactions. The book has a larger span than most novels, covering more than twenty years of Andy’s life.
In the last part of the book, Andy develops health problems and alcoholism, and loses years of her life. At times, it is hard to keep track of all of the characters who come and go. In the background is the noise of the era—Legionnaires, the Jonestown massacre, AIDs. The novel seems too broad in its scope, longer than the biography of the Nelson Mandela. In the end, the strongest part of the book is Andy’s voice, increasingly saddened, but not hardened as the years wear on, and haunting, leaving this reader feeling its loss upon turning the last page.
E. Adrian Dzahn
E. Adrian Dzahn