Fifteen years in the life of a woman who is constitutionally out of step with her privileged New York family.
We meet Laura in 1980, waking up from a nightmare, thinking it would be nice if she had a husband to discuss it with. The only other time she misses having a partner is if something breaks around the apartment after 9 p.m., too late to call the super. Laura is an odd duck in many ways. She has little interest in clothes, “but what people assumed was her absentminded ignorance of fashion” is actually ecological conscientiousness. Since everything she owns will one day end up in a landfill, she avoids acquisition as much as possible. In 1979, the fashion-on-the-street photographer Bill Cunningham took a picture of her in a Laura Ashley skirt, white turtleneck, and Frye boots; she is still talking about it, and wearing the same outfit, in 1995. Though she rejects her family’s lifestyle in some respects, she does take their money and holds a job at the museum now located in her great-grandfather’s mansion. Wedding coordination is a position for which she is quite unsuited, but because of the special allowances the library makes due to her connections, she will never leave. In this very quiet life of hers, one thunderbolt strikes. In her single experience of sexual intercourse, which occurs under conditions which are both very sad and very funny, she gets pregnant. Reproduction is certainly not part of her plan to save the planet, but on the day of her scheduled abortion, a sparrow gets into her room and changes her mind. So all-by-herself Laura becomes Laura and Emma, per the title of Greathead’s debut. Although having a child should by all rights open the windows of Laura’s life, it doesn’t. Her daughter, on the other hand, turns out to be a totally different sort of person.
This ultimately rather mysterious book, with its attenuated plot and restrained humor, is like a person who speaks so softly that you end up paying very close attention.