Jenny in Corona.
Faber. 2019. 324 pp.
ISBN 978 0 571 34838 1.
Tyrone ("Please call me Ty") is introduced as a middle school boy who has just lost his mother. And like every young person his age, he feels displaced "like a white star—'a stellar remnant composed of degenerate matter'—very dense." But he's also "a-quiver in music," dance, exuberance, and the promise that comes from hope, yearning to live his life con brio—with vigor!
Half Jewish and half Italian, Ty describes himself as "Askenphardic-Sicilian," and as he tries to find his identity, he looks for it in the food he likes, wondering, "Is it more difficult to choose a God or a cuisine?" and ends up with a double dollop of guilt.
Ross focuses not on dates or Ty's age but on stages in his life—middle and high school, college, young professional—bouncing around New York from Queens to Manhattan (the Mecca of his youth), and finally back to Queens, as his future takes shape.
Early on Ross mentions Jack Kerouac's experimental novel Visions of Cody, and it stands as a perfect backdrop for Ty's early years. Kerouac's stream of consciousness and Neal Cassady's stoned effervescence frame Ty's unfocused energy, ambivalent vison of life, and sexual experimentation, offering a vivid representation of the diffuse, ambiguous, turbulent nature of youth. Ross as well often uses a semi stream of consciousness style, staccato bursts of thought and imagery, to effectively convey the vibrancy and zest of his characters and settings.
Along the way Ty meets Jenny Marks, "a self-obsessed, chain-smoking hallway depressive" who never wants to have kids or leave Queens. Lover, nuisance, mainstay, she is a constant in the equation that is Ty. Jenny appears, disappears, reappears, flitting in and out of Ty's life like a butterfly. And like the butterfly in Greek mythology that represents the freeing of the soul in death, she touches the part of Ty that yearns to remain uncaged as the buoyancy of youth passes, replaced by the demands and responsibilities of adulthood. As Ty matures, his tastes and desires change. No longer strolling but walking with purpose, leaving poetry and novels behind, forsaking them for marketing materials, he is walking a universal path from which there is no return.
Ty also experiences the pain of heartbreak as he becomes involved with the quintessential Manhattan woman, Krista Kaplan. His "Afternoon Woman," Krista is beautiful, accomplished (his superior at work), and ultimately unattainable, a fantasy who represents everything Ty tells himself he wants. But as he matures, Krista slips away, headed in a direction laid out by her own origins. From a well-to-do family in the Midwest, she will not be restrained by Ty's limitations.
As a junior marketing strategist at a management consulting firm, Ty hires and then is forced to fire a young African American, Michael Mann. Mann kills himself afterward, and Ty goes to his wake, an act of decency spawned by guilt, neither of which Krista possesses. Her refusal to accompany him presents a moment of clarity in which Ty realizes he does not belong on Wall Street and Krista does. She is on a different trajectory, and the occasion sharpens his focus, putting him on the road to accepting that it is Jenny, his "Midnight Girl," who is his destiny.
Ty often wonders the exact moment his father will die, painfully aware this is the moment he will become a man. But to Jenny the question is irrelevant. Impulsive and untroubled, her constant though intermittent presence keeps Ty's soul alive. And as Ty's father looks at the Dow and sees, "The same steel the Buick builder sees when he builds the cars Dad no longer has the ability to drive," Jenny and Queens are the foundational steel of Ty's future as he is poised to become his father.
Jenny always yawns when she's hungry. And in the end, as Ty and Jenny unite, she passes that yawn on to him, helping him retain a touch of Kerouac's restlessness, as they settle in Queens. Anchored but not strangled by their roots, Ty and Jenny become like the protagonist of ee cummings' untitled masterpiece, yawning away together in "a pretty how town," confirming that we all still need roots even though we have gravity.
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