How well can you ever really know another person? After all, aren't there sides of ourselves that we hide even from those we love most? And is it possible to love the same person for your entire life? These are just a few of the questions raised in Gabrielle Zevin's provocative debut novel, Margarettown.
From the moment they meet, N. and Margaret Towne are completely enamored with one another. Margaret (or Maggie, as she's called) is a listless college student; N. (whose full name we never learn) is an equally apathetic teaching assistant. As they fall in love, Maggie warns N.: "There're things about me. When you find them out, you're going to despise me, I know it." With succinct, lyrical prose, Zevin gradually reveals Maggie's secrets and draws us deeply into a brutally honest, incredibly memorable love story.
After they begin dating, Maggie takes N. home to meet her family in Margarettown, a fantastical and charming place somewhere in upstate New York. Oddly enough, a number of Margaret Townes live in Margarettown. There's the family matriarch, Old Margaret; the middle-aged curmudgeon, Marge; the rebellious teenager, Mia; and the adorable little girl, May. And of course, there's Maggie. The women are inexplicably connected, but in ways N. will not discover until he decides to spend his life with Maggie.
Zevin discreetly blurs the boundaries between fantasy and reality, capturing the many idiosyncrasies and mysteries of every relationship. Quirky, yet insightful, slim in size, but rich in content, Margarettown is unlike anything I've read this year. Zevin, who seems to have an innate understanding of the absolute unpredictability of love, has created a rich cast of characters and a truly captivating novel. As Margarettown begins, Maggie tells N.: "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." And in the end, aren't we all?
Abby Plesser graduated from Vanderbilt University last month and is using her new-found freedom to catch up on her reading.