Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney

Jonathan Trumbull
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Modeled on Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Among Other Things... is a fresh, intriguing perspective on coming of age.

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking

Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 1594201307
Author: Aoibheann Sweeney
Price: $23.95
Length: 208
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-07

Ovid's Metamorphoses is a collection of tales about discovery and transformation, which, as main character Miranda relates in Aoibheann (pronounced Ee-van) Sweeney's novel Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking, "rarely ended happily; the process of transformation of hands turning into claws and feathers sprouting on shoulders was sometimes a punishment, and sometimes a reprieve." Take the story of Narcissus, the beautiful water spirit who metamorphosed into a flower after falling in love with his own reflection, or Galatea, the statue-turned-human with whom Pygmalion, her sculptor, fell in love.

As Miranda Donnal's father holes his family up on remote Crab Island off the coast of Maine to finish his own translation of Metamorphoses, Miranda is submerged in a world of fabled characters. After her mother disappears while boating and her father becomes increasingly remote, Miranda must find comfort in the world of myths and imagination that she creates for herself -- and later, by shaping her own transformation when she accepts a job as a typist at a classical library her father helped establish in Manhattan.

Not until she reaches New York does Miranda realize that her sheltered lifestyle on Crab Island kept her from discovering her own identity. Life in Greenwich Village brings Miranda's complicated emotions to the surface as she assesses her own sexual individuality and rediscovers her love for her father, which had long since been subdued by his solitary ambiguity.

Sweeney models her novel on Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses, dividing it into three parts: the age of silver, when humankind begins to establish itself as the dominant race; the age of bronze, when men take up arms and war is waged; and the age of iron, when jealousy and other vices begin to take hold of man's mind. Sweeney pairs the physical isolation of Crab Island with the psychological isolation of Manhattan, where, although surrounded by millions of people, Miranda is unable to emotionally establish herself.

Sweeney displays a crisp style that casts into sharp relief the complicated array of emotions running through Miranda's head and heart as she leaves her coastal home behind:

Ahead of the ferry, heavy and milky green in the sunlight, was the Statue of Liberty, the water like a carpet at her feet. The sight and smell of the sea almost hurt, it was so close and familiar, like the delicious smell of sheets when you are too tired to sleep; it was already September and I could picture the bay in front of our house, the islands just beginning to color, rafts of eiders by the shore, eagles and ospreys on the hunt, readying to leave for warmer coasts.

Uncertainty and reluctance are ever-present in Among Other Things as Miranda must sort through relationships, her discovery of love, and her obscure family history. Befriended by both a local socialite and a street-corner coffee vendor, Miranda -- whose name in Latin means "to be admired" -- must discover who she can trust and who she must avoid.

Miranda's transformation from sheltered islander to forlorn city girl wouldn't seem so out of place in the classical poem that her father has committed his life to translating. The parallels between Miranda's makeover and Ovid's transformations are anything but vague. At one point, Miranda even believes she can sense the presence of the gods that were "always soaring from one place to another, spying on nymphs from above."

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking is a fresh, intriguing perspective on coming of age. Sweeney's wandering, convoluted episodes are well matched to the wandering and convoluted story of a girl's life. Sometimes monotonous but always focused, Among Other Things is not only intriguing, but likely to entice anyone into what lured Miranda and her father onto Crab Island -- "Ovid's spell."





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.