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What I Think: A Review of Joanna Clapps Herman's No Longer and Not Yet

Joanna Clapps Herman No Longer and Not Yet

While I was on vacation, I got some much needed reading in. I'm a reader through and through, and when I don't get to snuggle up with a book, I start to feel as if my brain is atrophying.

I like books that make me think and make me feel. I like books that make me want to know the characters and visit where they live.

Sadly, I don't come across books like that as often as you'd think, so when I do, it's like a fresh breeze. 

Joanna Clapps Herman's book (novel? short story collection?), No Longer and Not Yet, was one of these books, and I enjoyed reading it immensely.

At its heart, the book is about the interactions and the moments that make our lives what they are. It's hard to give a more detailed description than that because of the way that the book ebbs and flows around different characters. It's not quite a novel, and it's not quite a collection of short stories--it's something in between that I don't know that I've encountered before in my reading journey. 

Each section (which is usually pretty short--less than 10 pages) deals with two or three of the characters and their journeys. While many characters come and go, the main ones include Tess and Max, two Americans who met while traveling in Italy; Naomi, who connects many of the characters and who loves to help other people; and David, who is constantly trying to find where he should be in life. Children are born, jobs are gained, the elderly characters face death--in other words, the book is about what we all experience in life. 

Only Herman provides beautifully written, short snapshots of these lives. My favorite was the one where we follow Tess and her three-year-old Paul around for a day. Tess, a former nursery school teacher, always dreamed of being a mother, but the reality is different than she expected. At three, Paul is still getting up multiple times a night, and he is extremely hyperactive. The representation of Tess as a mother encompasses many of the same feelings that I think all parents have at some point: we love these little creatures beyond what is rational, but sometimes, we just want to sleep uninterrupted. And we don't want to feel guilty about doing so, either. (This is far easier said than done.)

Even though I've never set foot in New York City, and I couldn't find the Upper West Side of Manhattan on a map, Herman manages to keep my interest throughout. The setting of this novel/ short story collection is just as much a character as the human ones, and I found myself with a new perspective of NYC. Since I've never been there, I imagine it to be all lights and crowds and frantic shoving (blame the movies). Instead, Herman shows us a different New York: it's a community, a neighborhood, a place with an identity and pull. She writes like she lives there (and, no surprise, Herman does hail from the area), and I want to go visit! 

It isn't a book that I normally would have picked up in the library, but like many of my favorite books that I was assigned in grad school, I am reminded that I need to expand my horizons. It's great texts like this that help me remember that stepping out of one's comfort zone is a good thing. 

I received a copy of this book in order to write the above review for TLC Book Tours. No other compensation was provided. All opinions are my own.