I know for sure that I don’t hate this novel. If anything, it made me wish I was able to interview my grandmother for a seventh grade historical genealogy assignment. Every year, I have my students write about and research their name, like Sandra Cisneros did in one of her vignettes for A House on Mango Street. Some teachers of the Holocaust have their students find and interview survivors or people who are related to those who suffered.
Unlike either of those projects, this was a fictional novel of an interview between a granddaughter and her grandmother. You never hear from the granddaughter in The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant, but the grandmother Addie Baum tells the timeline of her life in the interview from her beginnings in 1900 to 1985 when she is doing the interview. Addie weaves the historical remnants of prohibition, speakeasies, women who are just being allowed to be professionals, Rockport Lodge for girls, and the artistic culture, with her life as a Jewish girl in Boston growing up between her mother’s yiddish, her sister’s bobbed hair, and her own voice. Her story was a retelling of a life which I found fascinating because it was true to an oral history of a woman of 85 that has not lost even one marble. She’s full of fairy wisdom, and never strays from the pain in her life which makes it seem true to a real woman’s history.
Where I had a problem was that this book is incredibly boring. It has very little narrative drive. This is an 85 year old woman that has very little spunk, all of her friends claim throughout her life that she’s so smart and well-read, but her speaking language never comes off any sort of beautiful. (I don’t think most people’s speaking language is particularly beautiful. My writing language can hold a leather glove to my speaking language. This is my first argument against BookTube). The Boston Girl is almost an exact timeline of a woman’s life. The expected happens. Life happens. The scary and turbulent happens (as shit storms come through with their dust rolls and sticking webs in most lives). I left this book wondering what exactly the point was. Was it to tell the history of Boston women as a gaggle from 1900-1985, or Jewish immigrant women during this time? That’s the problem with plot.
It ends (for me) at Addie’s marriage which I think was a smart ending. For the entire novel, Addie finds herself rubbing against the ideals for women during the early 1900s (particularly prohibition, the Great Depression, Spanish Influenza and not so much the World Wars). I think when she gets married, her life as a girl “coming of age” is no longer driving the novel forward, and that is the justifiable end. Plus, the soon-to-be-husband is easy for the reader to like, as is expected if we’re going to come to a happy ending.
I wonder if the novel was severely lacking because I had very little emotional response. There was almost no need to because I could predict what was coming. I know history and so I knew someone in her family would be graved by the Spanish Influenza and as a woman she would face the beginning of woman’s fight for rights. Maybe I didn’t feel so much for it because an 85 year old woman would not remember these details of her life so specifically, the big ones, yes, but all the little touches – I just don’t know. Maybe I didn’t like it because the writing was so plain, there was very little beauty in the wisdom and I didn’t feel as if 85 year old Addie was talking to me, but instead she was a younger version of herself. Throughout the novel she tracks her many key friendships; Filomena who faced a bleach abortion, and moved to Arizona to pursue her art practice, Betty, Addie’s her independent sister, Celia, her fragile sister, Rose, who she attended Rockport Lodge with and Irene, Rose’s sister. All these women were women I, too, have shared a life with in some way or another, but that’s just what this was, a life. A life spoken down.
Have any of you read this one? It has a pretty high 5-point score of 3.81 on Goodreads. Maybe I’m a Debbie Downer? Send your feedback below.