Peripatetic adventures of a struggling young artist.
Celebrated playwright Berman (Hunting and Gathering, 2008, etc.) recounts her early years in New York City seeking the artist’s life, love and suitable lodgings. Student dorms, sublets, roach-infested walk-ups, parentally-funded “princess” apartments, couch surfing—the author explored seemingly every permutation of New York real estate as she pursued a classic bohemian existence as a fledgling performer and writer. As the product of a complicated home life, Berman’s rootlessness was spiritual as well as physical, and much of the author’s self-analysis is couched in New Age terms, with much emphasis on “healing” and “light.” Chronically broke, she still managed to find funds for various metaphysical advisors, who counseled her to burn sage in a new living space and consult a Tarot card reader, ostensibly ludicrous advice that perhaps seemed worthwhile in the savage trenches of the Manhattan apartment market. Real darkness enters Berman’s memoir in the forms of a traumatic rape that left the author sleepless and paralyzed with fear, and a boyfriend institutionalized for mental illness. She rallied, however, juggling multiple jobs, a diffident younger boyfriend and constant housing crises as she made headway in the theater scene and, triumphantly, was finally invited to join Juilliard’s prestigious drama program. Readers will applaud Berman’s pluck, but the litany of troublesome roommates, petty arguments, quotidian hassles, artists’ workshops and retreats and self-pitying maternal phone calls becomes tedious, as do the author’s monumental self-absorption and devotion to dubious spiritual pursuits. Berman certainly struggled to reach a measure of security and success, but the struggle was a rather ordinary one, untransformed here by the dramatist’s art.
A candid remembrance that fails as a compelling narrative.