Waste & redemption
Bookslut on Maeve Brennan‘s The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from The New Yorker.
The streets that ran through Brennan’s various neighborhoods were less comforting but no less interesting. She isolated moods: a hot day when there was “nothing to breathe except heavy displeasure” or a weekend afternoon when the city was “amiable and groggy – no complaints that I could hear.” She also collected characters that ran the gamut from a brown-suited businessman happily greeting his son to a drunken woman singing and bashing the roofs of passing taxis with an umbrella to a trio of futuristic prostitutes. Even the streets themselves were characters: Park Avenue wore “such an air of vast indifference to humanity,” while Sixth Avenue was “a perfect place for snow, and snow should always be falling there, tons and tons and tons of snow.”
Years passed. Brennan became an alcoholic. She stopped writing. For a while, she was even homeless. Perhaps one can only search for home for so long.
Though Brennan seems to have never found a home in which she felt at home, the closest she came might have been the New Yorker. The magazine sheltered and cultivated her talents, and one has to wonder if she stopped writing because she went off the rails or if she went off the rails because she stopped writing. The voice in her essays is sometimes funny and curious, sometimes angry and annoyed, sometimes sad and lonely, but it is always strong. She was on a quest to find a home, battling New York’s emotional dragons of prostitutes, drunks, traffic, and endless construction. On this quest she found hope, humor, and heartache in small and simple things. These became her essays, and one imagines that writing them was a way defining these fleeting moments. A way, that is, of staying sane.