Like many young people, Heidi Julavits kept a diary. Decades later she found her old diaries in a storage bin, and hoped to discover the early evidence of the person (and writer) she d since become. Instead, The actual diaries revealed me to possess the mind of a paranoid tax auditor.Read more...
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Like many young people, Heidi Julavits kept a diary. Decades later she found her old diaries in a storage bin, and hoped to discover the early evidence of the person (and writer) she d since become. Instead, The actual diaries revealed me to possess the mind of a paranoid tax auditor.
Thus was born a desire to try again, to chronicle her daily life as a fortysomething woman, wife, mother, and writer. The dazzling result is The Folded Clock, in which the diary form becomes a meditation on time and self, youth and aging, betrayal and loyalty, friendship and romance, faith and fate, marriage and family, desire and death, gossip and secrets, art and ambition.
The Folded Clock is as playful as it is brilliant, a tour de force by one of the most gifted prose stylists in American letters.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-02-02
- Reviewer: Staff
When Julavits, a novelist (The Vanishers) and founding editor of the Believer magazine, rediscovered the diary she kept as a young girl, she was disappointed by its lack of imagination, style, and wit. So, in her 40s, she set out to chronicle the next two years of her life, complete with all the idiosyncrasies missing from her youthful writings. Displaying both charm and stark honesty, Julavits admits to having an abortion when she was 19, explores the dissolution of her first marriage, and laments the worst sex of her life. Receiving a wasp sting reminds her of the time she was in the window seat on a red-eye flight next to two sleeping passengers. Instead of disturbing them to use the lavatory, she attempted to relieve herself in an airsickness bag. And hearing an ambulance siren or conducting a fruitless Internet search unleashes her neurotic imagination. Each entry begins “Today I,” just as she began her diary as a girl. The entries aren’t ordered, and many depict Julavits as a not-always-likable woman of privilege. The diary angle makes for a clever hook, but masks what this really is—a compelling collection of intimate, untitled personal essays that reveal one woman’s ever-evolving soul. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Apr.)
The changing experience of time
The Folded Clock, as crafted by novelist Heidi Julavits, is intricate and delicately worked. Time doesn’t flow linearly in this memoir as we might expect. What at first glance appears to be the diary of a writer in her 40s living an enviable life—an apartment in Manhattan, a house in Maine, sabbaticals in Europe—turns into a structure more complex, like an origami crane. Meditations on marriage and friendship appear and reappear. Diary entries might skip six months, or jump back a year. Julavits arranges the raw material of her diary in such a way as to provoke insight across the units of time that we normally experience: the day, the week and the month.
Once the reader understands that this is no ordinary diary in which life is sliced into manageable chunks, the fun begins. Julavits opens her book by telling us about her middle school diary, how it accounts for the days but not for the self who experiences them. (But whose middle school diary manages that?) She makes the canny observation that a day is a piece of time too small for a middle-aged working mom to contemplate; a week is the smallest unit of time she experiences, or even a month—life measured out in bills due.
The magic of The Folded Clock is the way it recaptures time, slowing and bending it, to create something new: art from life. There’s plenty of life here: swimming in the open ocean, writing in the library, drinking beer in the afternoon, a first husband, a second husband, therapy, girl crushes and more. By connecting these units of daily life, Julavits transforms her diary into an exceptional work of art.