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Here, There and Everywhere
Many, many years ago, I reviewed a movie for Quail Bell called The Double Life of Veronique. While discussing the oeuvre of Krzysztof Kieslowski, I mentioned a film series he directed called the Three Colors trilogy. While I didn’t go too deep into discussing the films, the first film in the series, Three Colors: Blue, is one of the best movies I have ever seen in my life. Three Colors: Red may be my all-time favorite movie, but Blue was one that still haunts me. The film, which follows a woman who loses her husband and daughter in a car accident and tries to separate herself from all around her to cope with the loss, was a dramatic and dreamlike depiction of the grieving and bereavement process. Through its beautiful cinematography and score, the depiction of Juliette Binoche’s protagonist as she tries and fails to isolate herself in her time of grief really struck a chord with me and remains with me to this day as one of the best depictions of bereavement I have ever seen.
I bring this up because, five years or so since I’ve seen Blue, I think I may have found a work that has put me back into the same feelings I felt when I saw that movie. Lindsay Lerman’s new novel I’m From Nowhere trades the beautiful and blue Paris for the dry and desolate desert, but carries the same emotional weight and resonance that Kieslowski captured almost thirty years ago. Lerman’s novel follows Claire, a thirtysomething-year-old woman who recently lost her husband and now addresses life without him. Rather than being a story about getting her groove back or finding new love, Claire spends the novel trying to really figure out who she is without her husband, examining how she sees herself and how others see her.
For her first novel, Lerman keeps the time frame and the setting small and intimate. The story covers less than a week or so of Claire’s life, starting with her husband John’s funeral and continuing on for a few days after. We don’t know the name of the town Claire and John lived in, other than that it’s a small desert town. We hardly see Claire interact with anyone, and what interactions she does have are minuscule and distant. This means the reader, like Claire, is forced to stay within, to see how Claire views herself and the world around her. There isn’t much action or plot within the novel; one of the few moments of tension is when Claire gets a call to arrange a meeting with her banker, although that quickly dissipates.
But at the same time, the novel isn’t so much about plot or action. It’s a short read, but I'm From Nowhere would rather present itself as a case study of its protagonist than anything else. Through Claire, Lerman examines societal roles for women, the grieving process, and the difficult balance of relationships. Every chapter of the novel has Claire consider what role she played with her husband, with her husband’s friends who are now trying to get closer to her now that she’s single, or what role she gave to herself. It helps that a lot of scenes have Claire compare herself to female characters in literature who were often isolated or whose internal selves the reader was guarded from, such as Penelope from The Odyssey, Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby, and Anna Karenina. Like Penelope, Daisy, and Anna, Claire is someone who had many roles given to her and interpretations over her life, whether it’s as a friend, a lover, a wife, a (potential) mother, etc. Now that she’s been free of all definition, what is Claire supposed to do with herself, and who is she supposed to identify herself as?
I’m From Nowhere instantly gripped me with its emotional writing and its enigmatic protagonist. While some readers may not have experienced loss like Claire has, it’s easy to get taken into her world and how she approaches the past and the future. It wasn’t hard for me to be as taken by her and Lerman’s novel as I was, and I imagine a lot of others will be instantly hooked by this tale. Much like Three Colors: Blue, it shows that some isolation may be needed to process grief, but eventually life will have to resume. What that means for Claire may remain to be seen, but considering how Lerman has fleshed her out, it's entirely likely she'll be able to move through life like a tumbleweed passing through the desert.
I'm From Nowhere by Lindsay Lerman is available from CLASH Books now.