A motley collection of pieces—often quite brief, many previously unpublished—on topics ranging from broken love to stretch marks to Tylenol.
Essayist Noble has a focused, tight style, often employing the technique of looking at somewhat discrete items (or memories) and seeking connections among them. Early in this debut volume, for example, is a series of snippets about the author’s experiences looking in mirrors, from childhood to the present—yes, Narcissus makes an appearance. Later, Noble examines a collection of rings that once belonged to her late grandmother, and she riffs on each one, giving us the histories of the various stones (“Pliny wrote that wearing a diamond wards off insanity”) and the memories she has of them. The author displays admirable candor in some reflections about her love affairs, chronicling not just how they began, but also how they cracked and crumbled, and she does not hesitate to recognize that she was sometimes the one to initiate the cracks. Noble also writes bluntly about her fears of childbirth. Another technique she uses is to compare her life with the lives of literary and historical figures. In a piece about one of her relationships, for instance, she cuts back and forth to and from the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Evident throughout is Noble’s fondness for reading and literature: Virginia Woolf drifts in and out of a number of essays, and she alludes to Wuthering Heights, Montaigne, Robinson Crusoe, Joan Didion, and Sherwin Nuland, among numerous others. Throughout the collection, Noble delivers many sharp-edged sentences. At the end of an essay about shotgun shells, Noble writes about a spent shell and her target: “I hold a shell in my hand and look at the cardboard box half-shredded on the ground. My thumb, the size of the shell; the hole, the size of your heart.”
Unique eyes look at familiar things and somehow make them seem both odder and more familiar.