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LILLIAN ON LIFE by Alison Jean Lester Kirkus Star


by Alison Jean Lester

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-399-16889-5
Publisher: Putnam

In a remarkably confident debut, a woman’s life is revealed through fragments and meditations hinting at a life of great daring and unrealized dreams.

The book's 24 short, largely chronological chapters are titled like some kind of unorthodox primer—“On How to Study,” “On the Importance of Big Pockets,” “On One-Night Stands,” “On Looking the Part”—and indeed, Lillian holds forth, witty, crass and vulnerable, imparting the wisdom of a carefully reckless life. Despite being born to conventional Midwesterners in the 1930s, Lillian falls into a sophisticated life of love affairs and independence. After a couple of years at Vassar and polite Yale men, then a minor breakdown that sends her home to finish her English lit degree in Missouri, Lillian finds a temporary job typing a manuscript for a journalist in Germany. In Munich, she's shellshocked by isolation and innocence, wandering around with a copy of The Brothers Karamazov to keep her dining-for-one respectable. An ardent Hungarian named Lazlo forces himself on her, though “[s]uch things weren’t called rape back then.” Lillian finds permanent work at a newswire service, and her career takes her to Paris in the '50s (and to the bed of Willis, a man of great taste and rash decisions), to London in the early '60s (and a house with John, an icy columnist), and to New York in the '70s (with Ted, her married boss, filling her every thought). Although she wanted marriage and children, a number of very bad and very good choices kept her single, though rarely alone. Unconventionally plotted, Lillian’s tale is filled with lush details and cool observations about the twins of female freedom: contentment and compromise.  

A slim novel that feels just perfect—each thought measured, each syllable counted, a kind of haiku to an independent woman.