I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
June 1, 2020: Anna Solomon
What a read! The Book of V. catapults you from Lily in Trump-era Brooklyn to Vee in Watergate-era DC to Esther in ancient Persia. It’s a book where the names of first wives begin with V and the names of husbands begin with A. It’s the story of three women in three different centuries.
I love it when books stand on the shoulders of other books, and in her Acknowledgements, Anna credits the structure of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which is one of my all-time favorite books, as inspiration for her own structure in The Book of V. In perhaps another nod, the black and brown cover of The Book of V. calls to mind the cover of The Hours. In both books, the parallel stories of three women invite the reader to participate in the story, to enter in and look for ways in which the women are alike and for ways in which they’re different. Also in both books, the three narratives speak to each other in countless ways.
In The Book of V., the titles of chapters speak to each other. After “Ablutions” comes “More Serious Ablutions” and after “Another Marriage” comes “Her Stunning Marriage.” The openings of chapters also speak to previous chapters. “Dusk here, too.” Among the chapters are echos of sound (humming), of gesture (knees between legs), of emotion (fear), of food (fish), of body parts (lungs) of activity (sewing), and of things (laundry).
Across the centuries, Esther and Vee and Lily struggle with issues at the heart of women’s rights. As the centuries go by, the women struggle in more and more subtle ways. Life gets easier. Progress is made. But the issues remain the same. As Jennifer Haigh writes, “The Book of V. is a meditation on female power and powerlessness, the stories told about women and the ones we tell about and to ourselves.”
Meet Esther in Ancient Persia. She may be the Queen of Persia, but she’s also captive in her own house.
She is humming. It’s her aunt’s habit, taking abrupt root in her. There is no melody. It’s the vibration she’s after, the echo of herself that steadies her as she walks.
[And, in a lovely moment of connection across centuries, the next line, which begins the next chapter, a Lily one, is “She hums to ward off panic.”]
Meet Vee in Watergate-era DC. Feminism may be changing things, but she’s still struggling into her girdle, and as a political wife, must hide out of sight for a while.
[T]he Pill, which seems to her now, though she is not currently having sex, as critical as food and water–like her own private armor.
Meet Lily in Trump-era Brooklyn. She has the freedom to choose but two little girls and a sick mother.
She wonders, not for the first time, if there is something wrong with her that she can’t deal with what is in fact a completely manageable situation of her own choosing. She is not captive.
Here are two passages I love for their wonderful similes.
“Well,” as her grandmother used to say. Well well well, her grandmother said, as she moved around the house making the beds, or preparing supper, or–as she got older–looking for something she was ashamed of having lost. Well, like a verbal banister. [Vee]
She throws her mind at her childhood like a net. What she catches, though, is not her mother… [Lily]
There’s an omniscient narrator who, like a court jester performing, assumes a different style of storytelling for each of the three main characters. The Lily sections are told at breakneck speed with lots of exclamation points, catching every thought that flits through her head however large or small. The Vee sections are told in a much calmer and more thoughtful, more controlled, manner. And in the Esther sections, the narrator often speaks to the reader and can be instructive as well as playful and wry.
The Book of V. is a Good Morning America Book Club Pick, and what fun to see it giant-sized in Times Square.
Anna is the author of two previous novels–The Little Bride and Leaving Lucy Pear. She also curates the Instagram account @unkempt_real_life: women’s untidied, unvarnished domestic spaces. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
Stay well and…
Come back on JUNE 1st to read how ANNA SOLOMON spends her days.