Wednesday, August 7, 2013
I tend to appreciate unusual. I tend to buy it.
An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris was created by the fashion writer Stephanie LaCava and the illustrator Matthew Nelson; writer and illustrator are inseparable here. So are writer, illustrator, and footnotes, the latter being a device LaCava relies on throughout a book in which objects serve as the dot-to-dot dots between an eccentic (purposely so) narrative thread. Objects such as poison arrow tree frogs, a skeleton key, an Egyptian sarcophagus-shaped metal pencil case, and a curved whale's tooth, for starters. Objects the young LaCava collected during alien days in Paris, where her family moved and left her feeling stranded—and inclined toward late-night scavenger walks alone. LaCava needed to assert some control over her world. Objects helped.
Early on, LaCava explains:
I never imagined I would live as I do today; I don't think I even believed I'd make it past twenty. Romantic love and calm were the great, elusive intangibles. I can now sit still for the length of a film, though my mind wanders. Love has come in unlikely forms and continues to surprise me. And the objects are still there, but only as mementos of more profound observations.Theory is a meandering book that turns around bright, hard moments. It floats, then it gets straight to the point. The footnotes alone are worth the price of omission—odd, thoroughly researched, and unexpected as they delve into the secret histories of coral, slip dresses, the lily of the valley, kaleidoscopes, a child's sailboat, and more. LaCava, who describes herself as an awkward, frail, nearly friendless teen (so difficult to imagine when you look at photos of this beautiful woman today) catalogs these objects, takes her strength from them, also hides behind them. She becomes a woman who writes, again early, "Here is my story, but told in a strange way. Consider the source."
I like risk takers. I don't always seek continuity from memoir, am grateful to be given a few hours with a book that teaches and redirects about the world at large. I recommend this fit-in-your-hand book to anyone searching for something different. And I recommend LaCava's blog, what she calls her "phantom cabinet of curiosities," which you can peruse here.