In this book, which is an emotional journey of her eleven formative years in New York city, Meg Fee describes herself as ‘a small universe in bloom’ and suffers bouts of self-pity while losing friends ‘as if through a sieve’. She engages in casual affairs, unfulfilling and vacuous which never seem to develop or be going anywhere with a Jack or an Eric, a David or a Harry, who all appear to meld into one unattainable person. While not slow in coming forward to attempt to initiate a relationship and sometimes reaching the ‘almost’ in a bonding but never quite getting there, one wonders is she too hard to please. Is there really something wrong with everyone she meets or does she perhaps need to examine her own self and her own attitudes? In fairness she does worry at times if ‘there is something about me that is simply too much’.
Nonetheless the book, which is written in the form of short essays with New York street names for most of their titles, becomes addictive and one wants to keep on rooting for Meg in her existential quest. One feels for her in her loveless vacuum and the apparent nihilism of her life in a huge uncaring metropolis where even bedbugs act as catalysts in the breakup of fragile friendships, and one senses her loneliness as she buys a latte ‘just for the warmth between my hands.’ The book is like the best of a story collection and some of the pieces are so brief and lyrical they are almost like poems such as On Home, IV. They are in the main thought-provoking and satisfying like a new genre as poem/story/essay mould themselves into a new entity in their metaphysical succinctness
One empathises with Fee in her tribulations, for example her efforts to lose weight she gauges ‘like some sort of barometer of happiness’. She finds consolation in writing which she claims is ‘a way to make peace with that which is flawed’ and she uses beautiful and emotive words to describe unrequited love: ‘I held my tongue because I’d nearly forgotten what joy felt like… and I sat there because I couldn’t figure out how to un-choose this person’.
One feels. however, despite her searing honesty and her realisation that ‘love stories aren’t always linear’, in trying perhaps too hard for a liaison to work, she fails to face the fact that in the longterm one has to accept the humdrum and ennui of quotidian life.
The melancholic in Meg is evident when she admits she is ‘sad in a way that is overwhelming and ever-present, untraceable to neither person nor thing’, and
she captures the universality of human longing as lying in bed alone she feels the need for ‘a person to be quiet with, and sad next to’.
Her candidly presented vignettes are humane and all too real such as the story in Thomson Street where she reveals her vulnerability and non-capricious nature while suffering at the mercy of an unscrupulous person. Indeed, she is not afraid to expose the city itself, often obscured by its bright lights, and some of her accounts are heart-wrenching as time after time she tries to reach out from her urban loneliness, flitting ‘at the edge of every image, threatening and ever-present’, only to recoil once again often wounded and disappointed from her efforts.
Meg Fee’s sojourn in New York was not wasted, as she grew and learned ultimately that ‘we will all many times over have to reconcile the life we planned for with the life we’ve got’.
Published in the Irish Examiner, 8/9/18
James Lawless is a poet and novelist; https://www.jameslawless.net