Pierpont opens her debut novel with a letter from a scorned mistress to the wife. This letter comes with a box of emails that the doorman hands to the 11-year-old daughter, who reads them and shows them to the teenage son, who shows them to the wife. The husband/lover/father is an artist who creates large-scale installations and sometimes sleeps in his studio. The wife teaches ballet and was a ballerina at Lincoln Center until she became pregnant with her married lover’s child and they married and she became a dance teacher rather than a dancer.
My favorite passage–“The end is never a surprise. People say, Don’t tell me, Don’t spoil it, and then later they say, If only I’d known….We thought we were living in between-time, after this and before that, but ti’s the between-time that lasted.” Do with it what you will.
I closed the covers last night and fell asleep thinking about whether I liked this book, whether it had lived up to the wonderful dramatic beginning of the bombshell letter and emails. That bombshell was followed by the husband’s (Jack’s) installation, a bombed out home that was meant to suggest anywhere. Only later does Pierpont suggest that maybe it isn’t anywhere. It’s post 9/11 New York. It’s 9/11 New York. Jack was in Manhattan on 9/11. He moved his studio to a safer part of town. His mother is an emotionally distant alcoholic. He loves his family, but doesn’t know how to connect with them. He is the Kinell poem with which Pierpont opens the novel and after which she names her novel. “Little sleep’s-head sprouting hair in the moonlight/when I come back/ we will go out together,/ we will walk out together among/ the ten thousand things,/ each scratched too late with such knowledge, the wages/ of dying is love.”
Pierpont is a young novelist. She may identify with the jilted mistress (I started to suspect she was the jilted mistress when she revealed near the novel’s end that the mistress who wrote the letter began writing about what she had done). The wife/mother, Deb, is a middle-aged woman the way a young woman imagines she will be in middle age. She is unlike any middle-aged woman I know and, being middle-aged myself, I know many. Pierpont graduated from the NYU Creative Writing Program and the craft is here, but the complexity of the characters lacks maturity. Their outlines are the harder, more defined vision of people we all have when we are young and believe actions are good or bad, selfish or altruistic. She wants them to be more complicated, but she’s not there yet herself. That was what I finally concluded, anyway, as I wrestled with whether or not I liked the novel and why. The adults are flat. The children, the victims, are sympathetic, quirky, memorable.
And then there’s that quote.