Despite pointing out that she tells her creative writing students never to begin a story with someone waking and getting out of bed, Sonya Huber does precisely that at the opening of Supremely Tony Acts: A Memoir of a Day. The format for the book leaves her little choice since it is indeed a memoir of a single day: 19 November 2019. Immediately, the many roles from which Huber acts as a person in the world become clear: activist, mother, academic, writer.
Considering the events of the day – going to court following her arrest for protesting – Huber follows many paths of personal and social ethics in her contemplation. Some of these paths venture into the nature of protest especially as she considers her privilege as a white woman who may face different consequences than people of other intersections of race, gender, and class. Huber was arrested at an environmental protest; Black Lives Matter looms in the unknown future at the time of the court hearing. Yet she easily moves between the time of writing, early in the 2020 covid pandemic, and various moments in the past that open naturally with a logic similar to clicking on hyperlinks.
Although Supremely Tiny Acts is not precisely a pandemic-era book, it is certainly a Trump-era book, marked by moments throughout Huber’s day when she moves between an ever-present sense of despair and the small glimmers of joy that bring her hope. A favorite fountain pen, a student with spiky blue hair, or going to garage sales with her mother, who taught her how to be an expert bargain hunter, are among the many small things that come to mind over the course of the day. There are difficult memories as well, and sorting through them or setting them aside are also tiny acts of the mind at work that is both vulnerable and powerful.
Huber writes with a firm sense that there are many things she considers but would not say aloud, giving the reader access to a witty mind, full of delightful surprises. For example, riding on the subway, she notices that the paired seats are in slightly different shades of orange. She wonders what it would be like to pose sitters on the train in shirts that match those shades. She writes that “you could do this in a Denny’s restaurant anywhere in America, but if you do it in New York City you’re suddenly an icon challenging the voice of your generation.”
Poking fun at the oddities of the art world is only part of Huber’s intent here. As a midwesterner by birth and by nature, her feeling of living in a cultural diaspora resonates throughout the book. Part of her story is in the transformations she experienced leaving a difficult marriage and difficult life circumstances in the process of evolving into the person she becomes. Huber’s skill shines in her capacity to wind these stories into meaningful narratives when they are presented as the incidental thoughts that pass through one’s mind throughout the day.
Like those threads of narrative, Huber also includes delightful, engrossing descriptions that appear as observations throughout the day: everything from the usefulness of Twitter as a place to find comfort when mourning the loss of a spouse to the magical nature of cabbage, which Huber calls the bowling ball of all vegetables, that is transformed into tiny flecks that grace her already-delicious tacos bought at Grand Central Station.
New York City as place figures significantly in Huber’s stories but Supremely Tiny Acts is not a book about New York particularly. Rather, the city is central to her nomad sensibilities, her feeling that she fails to fit in or belong anywhere. In the way of titular supremely tiny acts, Huber celebrates the happiness she experiences on the way home from New York City as the train passes Darien and Greenwich, names that once inspired class anxiety but now mean almost-home. For any reader who has ever felt out of place, ever had the nervousness of getting on the wrong train or ordering the wrong dish from the taco stand, Huber provides a warm feeling of compassion.
Traveling both literally and figuratively with Huber through her day is an intimate pleasure. At one point she writes about her uncertainty with regard to whether the people close to her truly love her, although knowing she is loved in an intellectual act akin to geometry. Her quirkiness, her vulnerability, and her worldview are offered up in a way that invites familiarity: readers leave the book feeling that they know someone who was previously a stranger but not anymore.