AN UNCOMMON EDUCATION by Elizabeth Percer-a REVIEW and GUEST POST
ABOUT THE BOOK: Released January 8, 2013
For fans of “Prep,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Special Topics in Calamity Physics “comes an elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut, in which a young woman’s serendipitous discovery of her college’s underground Shakespeare Society leads to an unforgettable series of transformations. When Naomi finds herself among “the Shakes” at Wellesley, she finally lets herself embrace the passionate inner self she’s always kept locked away. But when a sudden scandal unfolds, she will be forced to learn the limits of the relationships that have sustained her. An intimate and enthralling narrative, Elizabeth Percer’s debut novel An Uncommon Education marks the emergence of a stunning new literary talent.
REVIEW: An Uncommon Education is a storyline about a young woman-Naomi Feinstein- and her struggles to find herself. The storyline is centered in and around the Boston area where the brilliant and eccentric Naomi discovers she has a special ability that both hinders and furthers her eccentricities.
As a child –adored by her father, ignored by her mother, and rejected by the kids at school, Naomi must become self-sufficient and relies on her own abilities to absorb everything from the world around her. Making friends was beyond difficult and when she finally finds the one friend who can make everything right, he is ripped from her life in more ways than one.
The author takes us on a roller coaster ride through Naomi’s childhood, teen years and eventually delves into her struggles to fit into an institution where she never quite fit the mold-Wellesley College. At times the storyline dragged, especially in the early years, but much of what made Naomi the woman she became was built upon the foundation laid out in the early part of the story. As a young girl, raised by a Jewish father and a converted from Catholic mother, Naomi’s early years are a study in psychology-with her mothers’ questionable parenting and emotional health as well as her father’s never ending love, Naomi reaches out to the only person she knows and in doing so, will eventually lose the person she was trying to become.
We are witness to Naomi’s struggles and internal battles as she wages war with herself-never quite sure enough whether to take the next step and in some cases screwing up along the way. At one point, Naomi is a young girl in love with the boy next door, but the reality of the situation is a hard lesson learned in bigotry and religious prejudice-and in the long run, probably the best case scenario for Naomi.
Naomi Feinstein is a young woman who struggles with the realities of the world. We watch as the family dynamics affects a young girl to the point she becomes the parent to a mother who is battling demons of her own. There are heartbreaking moments of lost love, death and memories that can no longer be recovered. Her struggles through college are not unlike those of many others, but we are witness to an unhappy time in her life that would have been better spent elsewhere or in other pursuits. Naomi never quite fits in. She is a young woman lost and yet she is trying to save the people that she loves.
AN UNCOMMON EDUCATION is a coming of age story, told from the heroine’s POV, that some people will have a difficult time enjoying but it was a storyline that I found a different change of pace to the usual paranormal romance and erotic tales. I am not sure how to classify the genre: maybe coming of age: new adult: it is not quite historical or contemporary: or maybe it can be called- fiction. The storyline bounces back and forth between present and past, as well as skipping ahead several years at a time. But to cover close to 20 odd years in the life of Naomi Feinstein, would have taken longer to write than for the heroine to discover what it was she truly wanted in life.
Copy supplied by the publisher.
Reviewed by Sandy
Elizabeth Percer-GUEST POST by the author of AN UNCOMMON EDUCATION
I think one reason why the author’s writing process is a source of such endless curiosity is because it seems like a perfectly reasonable way to understand how books get written. People are understandably hoping there might be a way to operationalize the writer’s work, as if knowing how and when and with what a writer goes about her business can be boiled down into a series of easily reproducible steps. For most of my life, I was one of those people. In fact, I went so far as to spend six years in graduate school trying to study that very thing. And do you know what? I never figured it out – and in realizing that I would never figure it out, I think I finally became a writer.
Now before you get your knickers in a twist, I don’t mean to say that an understanding of writing must be left to the muses, unfathomable to us lowly mortals. In fact, the whole reason why I wanted to break the writing process down into manageable steps is because I thought it was irresponsible of writers to speak of things like muses and creative gifts and innate talent – to essentially implied that good writing was not something we could go after, but must be worthy enough to receive. Whenever I, as a younger writer, heard this kind of talk, I only felt more lost, more at sea, more powerless, really. And I’ve had enough of artists feeling powerless in this society. I think it’s time we changed our public image from wild-haired, tortured slaves of creativity into the far humbler, gloriously average creatures that we are.
I now realize, however, that the way to do this does not lie in dismantling the writer’s process into simplified steps; that writing can be as straightforward an act as following a recipe or putting an engine together. That’s the (sort of) bad news. The good news is that we don’t need to give our power away to the muses just because we don’t completely understand how writing works. The trick lies in relinquishing an idea that we have to understand the writing process in order to engage in it. I don’t believe we do. And here’s why:
Writing is a means of engaging with the world and our impressions of it. Just as we make friends not through formulas or systems, we must approach writing as a relationship with our own minds, one that requires dedication, faith, and good-heartedness to even get off the ground. It will, necessarily, also involve a certain amount of disappointment, misunderstanding, and emotional stubbed toes. A writer’s very last step is to actually write something down – most of what we do is feel around clumsily in the unknown until we touch on something that rings true – and this takes a lot of perseverance and an endless willingness to keep weeding our own gardens. In this way, being a writer does involve a certain amount of very simple, reproducible behavior — like showing up and concentrating and breaking larger goals into daily and manageable tasks — but without the willingness to engage with those murkier parts of our brain that are speaking to us like Frankenstein after an evening at the pub, these smaller details will be meaningless.
I think this is why writers are so squeamish about discussing process, because we know that writing cannot be broken down into procedures, that in a way it’s a far simpler and boring process of paying attention and taking notes, many of which never turn into anything anyone would want to read. Writing is learning more than telling; seeking more than finding; and having faith that putting our best unfinished selves out there will result in something far more meaningful than trying to explain ourselves.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Percer
Elizabeth Percer is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and has twice been honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. She received a BA in English from Wellesley and a PhD in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at UC Berkeley. She lives in California with her husband and three children. An Uncommon Education is her first novel.
Harper Collins is offering a paper copy of AN UNCOMMON EDUCATION to one lucky member at The Reading Cafe.
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