A languorous, melancholy slip of a novel, Eleanor Kriseman’s The Blurry Years recalls the equally composed and sharply incisive works of authors like Ann Nietzke and Laurie Colwin. It’s no small feat; Kriseman is a new writer and relatively young, yet her debut reveals a wealth of depth and keen observations.
A curious and cautious blend between a coming-of-age story and a travelogue, The Blurry Years begins with a prepubescent Cal, who spends the early part of her life being dragged from town to town by her flighty, sometimes volatile, single mother. At the start of the novel, Cal finds herself wedged into a number of makeshift nuclear families, where the turbulence is constant, until her unemployed mother finally whisks them off to an old high school friend she grew up with. Kriseman’s narrative follows Cal’s growing pains through her sexual exploits and search for independence.
The acknowledgements in the back of the book suggest that the book is purely a work of fiction. Yet the delicate but firm prose Kriseman establishes in her study of a young women on the peripheries of life rings clear with such sincerity that you’re apt to take this story as a lived truth. Laid out like a series of vignettes, The Blurry Years presents its narrative in short bursts of drama, tracing Cal’s trajectory of a young girl yearning for the love of a number of boys to her blossoming attraction to women.
The success of the story is due, mainly, to its careful plotting of events; for such a compact novel, Kriseman gets good mileage out of her protagonist, who runs the gamut of trying experiences and emotions. The author never skimps on the psychological depths of her characters, even when the narrative pitches from setting to setting, introducing her cast to new dynamics with each successive development.
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact target audience and age group here. Much of the narrative seems an ideal read for young adults. In addition to the aforementioned Nietzke and Colwin (authors who have written about the experiences of grown women), Kriseman’s work seems also very much aligned with the female-centric themes found in the works of young adult author Judy Blume, a notable writer of the emotional complexities of teenage girls.
This is clearly also a story of a young girl marshalling all of her insecurities and determinations into the world of the adult; the novel is balanced on the precarious and fleeting moment of adolescent transition, the interstices in the life of a teen just shifting into her 20s. Most of the demanding crises occur in Cal’s later years as a teen, when her sexuality becomes at once a burden and a source of enlightenment. At some point, Cal wakes up to the possibility of her attraction toward women and, though the feelings are circumvented and cached through the emotional subterfuge of inexperience and fear, it becomes increasingly clear how much of her sexual identity is the crux of this story.
Through the ruminative, poetic fog, there’s the clear-minded voice of an author who has managed to bridge a sequence of narrative information together with simple elegance and efficiency. It will be most interesting to see how Kriseman develops as a writer in the years to come. At this moment now, The Blurry Years seems to point the way toward smart, purposeful fiction about the intricacies and nuances of young adolescent women.
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Eleanor Kriseman reads from The Blurry Years for PopMatters.