Lillian on Life, a novel by Allison Jean Lester
As I read the new novel by Alison Jean Lester, Lillian on Life, I knew that this was a story that would stay with me. Alison is a dear friend and classmate of mine from graduate school. I had read Locked Out, Alison’s book of short stories, and I was thrilled to read her first novel relish relish her storytelling in even more depth.
We meet Lillian herself as a woman of a certain age. We follow her through adolescence, and it is delightful to watch her buck the social mores of her time when she pursues an administrative job in Berlin rather than marry her steady boyfriend. She opens doors for herself in the great cities of the world – Paris, London, New York. It is fascinating to navigate with her the challenges of being an independent woman of the world in the latter half of the 20th century, when women were expected to be nothing of the sort. Her career as a secretary affords her the salary and connections she needs as a professional, and also the luxury to live a different sort of life than what society would have expected of her.
As the book’s title suggest, Lillian has many observations and anecdotes to share about her life and her philosophy. The chapter titles themselves compel you to dive into each new section:
On the Dual Purpose of Things
On The Importance of Big Pockets
On Leaving In Order To Stay
On Memory’s Mismatched Moments
Lillian’s loves are the main theme throughout her stories, and we read about each relationship from beginning to end. Lillian can be saucy too, but you’ll have to read the novel yourself to find those parts. One of my favorite passages that truly represents Lillian’s narrative style and her take on life is this one:
Having is better than not having. There’s just not enough time sometimes. Often. People don’t give it to you. They sleep too long. Or life doesn’t give in. The Fates don’t. I’m completely with the Greeks on that. The Fates spin your life’s thread, tie it up in knots for fun, and when they think it’s the right length, they snip it, moving on. When people talk about changing their fate, I always want to laugh. If you’re going to talk at all about being fated, then that’s that. If you “change’ your fate, then you were fated to change your fate. The words cancel each other out.
Lillian on Life is a beautifully written portrait of a woman who is daring for her time, loving yet independent, witty yet poignant. It is a compelling, edifying and easily flowing read. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
The French language version is also available, La Vie de Lilian, Mode d’Emploi.
New York City Event! Alison Jean Lester will be in New York City on March 21, 2015 at 7PM, and I am thrilled to be hosting a reading with her, plus drinks and snacks. We have limited space, so please RSVP via Facebook.
~Karen Seiger, Markets of New York City