Miss Subways: A Novel David Duchovny

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But her senses were too acute to be failing- she could feel everything around her, smell the grass and the musky standing water of the pond, see the moon and make out the face that always looked aghast to her- as if the moon, in its slow orbit, were watching Earth the way drivers slow down at the scene of an accident. Each long night was a new, slowly unfolding catastrophe.

Emer spends most of her days as a New Yorker riding the subway, above ground and under (not unlike Persephone). Never without a book in her hand,  she harbors her own literary aspirations but focuses her energy in supporting Con as he works on his “opus”. Exhaustively fanning the flames of his passion, making him seem successful to others, she herself is collecting dust, ah the things we do for love. Delighted by the placards of random literary quotes and philosophy that catch her eye on the subway, her mind whirls with musings. Losing herself in her own curiosity, Emer is the dreamer and often touches the old scar on her head to ground herself in the now. She lives with her boyfriend Con, and is very much in love, but that life is about to go to the Gods, whichever Gods they may be. Enter a story rich in myths and religion and Gods that are bored by us diluted mortals. Emer seems to be their latest victim, either that or she’s losing her mind.

Love divided, Con and Emer are split apart and upon the threat of death, she proves her love by erasing him from her current life. Delete, fate is unfair! She wakes up new, with a niggling feeling that something is misaligned. Con is nothing but a man from her dream, but how real it feels. She throws herself in her job teaching second grade at St. Margaret’s Catholic School on the Lower East Side. A treasured teacher, she still manages to muck up her reputation by introducing a myth about a crow and forbidden fruit, a watermelon. As I write this the crow I feed is outside cawing, I can’t make this stuff up! A crow is just the latest strange creature that has entered her life. She’s always been a waking dreamer of sorts, so is it all just her overactive imagination, fed by all the books she’s devoured or does it have to do with the difference in her brain? Is it her secret seizures that make her sense things that probably aren’t there?

If her mind is attuned to parallel lives and beings, then her father’s is a stark contrast, suffering from Dementia. It isn’t long before even he seems to be making appearances in her lucid dreams. There is no way to know if any of it is real, his mind scattered to the wind with the disease, how can she question him and trust the answers? What about the Polaroid of Emer with a man, is this proof that her dreams exist as a real life? Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. The story is about Emer’s love for Con, but more than that it is about Emer finding her strength and power. Emer’s tepid love is not enough, it is through the meddling of the gods and mythical beings that the brew of her heart grows stronger. It is when Con is caught in the West African trickster Spider God Anansi’s web, that everything becomes twisted. To what ends? Are Con and Emer just pawns in a game, begun long before they were born? Why does Anansi want Con? Why not? Why is one of the mythical Irish Bean-Sidhe (who is definitely not a leprechaun!) paying her visits, tormenting her? Is she losing her mind?

This is one of the strangest stories I’ve read in a long time. It is full of clever humor, and a nod at what likely many travelers on this polluted earth of ours are pondering from time to time. At the start of the novel Emer is as average as any of us come, going through the motions, loving on automatic as we do but one difference, she has a bridge between the two halves of her brain that is maybe a supernatural gateway, or maybe it’s just a rich imagination. You decide.

This is the first novel I’ve read by David Duchovny, I was pleasantly surprised, his writing is solid and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the aftermath of Emer’s incident in the lunchroom with her three students, the ‘weird sisters’. It’s not earth shattering, unless you’re a teacher in this time where students have more power than the teacher.  At time when teaching children about other cultures verges on criminality, how can you not laugh, uncomfortably of course, at Emer being in ‘trouble’ for daring to tickle children’s imaginations with a story? How did we become so ridiculous, so bland, so numb?

Out today! May 1, 2018

Farrar, Straus, Giroux

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