Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Rules for Saying Goodbye," by Katherine Taylor

A common genre among novels I am attracted to and read is that of the young middle- or upper-middle-class woman starting out, generally just post-college, living in New York City (usually Manhattan, occasionally Brooklyn but in the latter case working in Manhattan) (usually having moved from elsewhere in the U.S.), stumbling a bit, feeling some financial pressure (but somehow always managing, sometimes with fortuitous help from family members, including magical access to rent-controlled apartments in some cases), hoping for career success and for love, and also reaching for independence. There is usually a lot of going out in the evenings, a lot of drinking, and a lot of flings. There are also detailed, often romanticized descriptions of parts of Manhattan, as well as of various lovers’ and friends’ apartments (housing is a big issue and topic in New York). This set-up for a novel is usually interesting and enjoyable to read about, despite being well worn. The trick for the author, of course, is to somehow make this situation and this character feel fresh. Katherine Taylor, in her first novel, “Rules for Saying Goodbye” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), does this well. Her main character, Kate, has moved from California, by way of school in New England and a side trip to Rome. Kate bartends so she can write her novel. She has an on-again-off-again relationship with Lucas, a journalist (hence the time in Rome, where he is on assignment). She, following the pattern for this type of novel (and for ambitious, educated young women who want to do something creative and/or important with their lives) goes out with her friends, drinks, has flirtations and flings, and spends a lot of time rehashing her adventures and woes with her friends. She feels pressure (mostly from within) to be a successful writer and (from within but also from her mother) to find the right partner/love interest. One of the most poignant and yet clever and entertaining parts of the book is the chapter titled “Rules for Saying Goodbye,” which consists of an actual list of eleven such “rules” for leaving a boyfriend. Rule One says, in part, “Do not leave until he has mentioned two ex-girlfriends in casual conversation.” Rule Two says “Leave if he starts writing songs about other people. These will be songs of loss and their details will have nothing to do with you. Shame on you for dating a musician. At your age.” And so on, up to Rule Eleven: “Call a taxi…Leave in tears, broken…Do not go back to retrieve things you have forgotten…Once you are gone, be gone for good.” Taylor has acknowledged in interviews that this novel is partly autobiographical. This author also has a new novel, her second, just out, which I am about to read, and will likely post about here soon.
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