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Book Club Wed Jan 10 2007

All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane

Memoirs are hot right now, especially quirky ones with nonlinear narratives and secondary characters who speak the memoirist's thoughts. It's getting easy to dismiss the latest trendy autobiographical efforts, but in some cases the writings merit a second look. Elizabeth Crane's All This Heavenly Glory is one of these. Not quite a memoir, and yet with a feeling too real to believe completely fictional –- one can't help but wonder how much Crane gleaned from her own life -– All This Heavenly Gloryi is every bit as experimental and unusual as any other chic, personal tell-all out there, but with one important difference: It's also very good.

Charlotte Anne Byers is the subject of the book, told in part by an omniscient third person narrator and in part from the first person viewpoint of Charlotte Anne herself. We follow Charlotte Anne from the age of six to the age of forty, following her as she begins a short lived opera career as a numbered character in La Boheme through ill-advised relationships and alcoholism through her father's remarriage and her mother's death through a failed name change, and finally to love. Don't let the love part deter you – in Charlotte Anne's world, this is perhaps the most suspect of all human emotions and is not spared from the cynicism she applies to the rest of her life. Charlotte Anne may find love in the end, but her life in interim is wonderfully fleshed out, making her eventual recognition of love far from the neatly tied up, sappy endings most contemporary literary heroines are given.

Charlotte Anne is a highly flawed character whose awkwardness and uncertainty speak to an audience who never had the newest shoes or the latest toys or knew the right and cool things to say. Charlotte Anne may even be a bit naïve, but her acute and interesting observations serve her well for a social education. Two stories deal directly with her "perversions," describing certain incidents with childhood friends that introduced her to some of the less fine life experiences. Although she's never personally hurt in either of these instances, she comes out feeling that a when a friend, however flippantly, accuses a father of displaying his genitals to her, or when a friend outfits her Barbie dolls with hidden books so as to be prepared for the inevitable parental belt-beating, something just isn't right. Best friend Jenna is present throughout the book and she acts as both a foundation and a source of antagonism for Charlotte Anne, as only the people closest to us can be. Jenna is just as flawed with her own set of troubles and her, at turns, loving and heartbreaking relationship with Charlotte Anne is far more realistic than female friendships are usually portrayed.

Heavily employing run-on sentences and speech disfluencies, Crane joins the new generation of stream-of-consciousness writers who perfectly capture their characters' thoughts. By the end of the book we know Charlotte Anne not as others know her, but as she knows herself, which is to say, in a self-deprecating, doubting, questioning, hardened, vulnerable, yet ultimately self-assured way. The realism with which Crane writes Charlotte Anne is a refreshing turn from the hordes of young women characters whose only problems are which stilettos will match their new designer bag. All This Heavenly Glory is also in possession of perhaps the most subtle, best-worded September 11th recollection in new writing. Owing to its quiet existence, this may not be the first passage that will comes to literary critics' minds when picking out early 21st century historical references to the day. Without mentioning the date once, Crane writes it as merely a day in a life –- a day on which innocence was lost, but still a day in a life, which, for many of us, is what it was.

The book's title refers to Charlotte Anne's filmic accomplishment, but it could also refer to Crane's own literary accomplishment. It is a glorious portrait of a genuine individual, indeed.


Visit Elizabeth Crane's website at to learn more about her work.

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