Structured emotionally rather than linearly, “American Mary” is alive. Able to carefully curate all those things that make up a life “American Mary” does so with the greatest of ease. Geography, jobs, income, living arrangements, these are mere elements. When blended together they create a portrait of how people live. Alexander Naughton understands this and uses her insight to inform the novel whose loose limber feel is poetic in tone. This makes sense as Alexander Naughton has considerable clout in the poetry world, organizing zines and setting up readings in the Bay Area.
There is something about “American Mary” something uniformly honest. Perhaps it is the way she is able to capture what it means to hang out, using the neurosis of social interaction. Even among the lightest of interaction there is that dread that permeates it all. Ideas of parties, of hanging out, take on multiple dimensions and perspectives. To Alexandra Naughton’s credit she lets the many faced ways of people shine throughout the book. Usage of repetition becomes of the utmost importance as the daily grinds, the constant hangouts, start to feel as if they are in a groove of sorts, able to feel fully real.
People in the book all simply want some level of acceptance. They are figuring themselves out, trying to find friendship, a kinship to their coworkers to various literary figures (who remain mostly unnamed throughout). Following in and out of the book, Alexandra Naughton’s many characters vary in terms of their temperament. Lots of them are simply lonely, loser sorts of people. Hoping to cling to someone, anyone they search for meaning finding none. Searches for meaning are never easy and these individuals, arrested in their development, are no longer in college, clueless about what to do next.
Out of all this nebulous churn of life Alexandra Naughton finds a sense of peace. This is not an easy path. Her observations of the dehumanization of people in public transit, of how often those that are not deemed to contribute substantially enough to a tax base, are given the bare minimum incentive to stay in the cities. By the sheer cyclical nature of life Alexandra Naughton discovers a purpose, knows who to reject in her life and who to accept. Plenty do not find this kind of comfort. Towards the end a sense of calm dominates for after the storm that is all that is left.
Remarkably real, Alexandra Naughton’s “American Mary” is one of the most passionately felt books I have ever read. Finally there is a book that captures what it means to feel tired and depressed while still being young.