Thursday, February 9, 2012
THESE DAYS ARE OURS: FIRST THOUGHTS
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This is Michelle Haimoff's first novel. Michelle is a freelance writer, a co-author of this blog, and a founding member of Women's Lit Book Club.
I am grateful to be one of the first people to read and write about this book. Michelle says in the Reader's Guide that it took her ten years to write. I believe people will be talking about this book for much longer than that.
The book follows Hailey, a 22-year old woman living in Manhattan just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She and her friends are born members of the upper middle class. Hailey is the product of exclusive private schools and expensive universities. But her family's money does not protect her from trauma. Her parents are divorced. She and her friends are aimless, drifting from one party to another, seemingly unable to commit to a job or relationship. And then there are the attacks- reminders to all Americans that they are never safe, that the next tragedy could be just around the corner.
The mood, when the book opens, is of a group of people biding their time, caught between their school years and adult responsibility. They spend much of their lives trying to hide their fear of another attack. Just as palpable is their fear of growing up. Hailey seems to have it all together, but on the inside she is insecure. She tortures herself over a boy who might or might not commit to her. Hailey's internal monologue ties all the characters, settings, and conflicts together. She is not an unreliable narrator; we can rely on her to be indecisive.
Hailey is self-obsessed, filled with angst, and usually insincere in how she presents herself. In other words, she is just like any 22-year old from her cultural background. The magic is how Michelle makes Hailey appealing. The reader wants to know more about her, to find out if she ever grew up, to see if there was any closure with the boy. Handled just a little differently, Hailey would have been a caricature of a rich girl. Instead, she is our guide through a world that, after the World Trade Center fell, was in danger of ceasing to exist.
This book is helpful to me because it teaches that privileged people suffer too. Perhaps the nature of their suffering is different from a poor person's suffering. Perhaps, like Hailey, they appear to be happy and well-adjusted. Perhaps their access to money insulates them from certain problems like not having enough to eat, losing their homes, or being victims of endemic violence. But the truth is that nobody gets a free pass through life. Trauma can reach out and strike us all. With this knowledge, and with the understanding that this book's major conflict is appearance vs. reality, I am able to empathize with Hailey instead of judging her.