Gitlin, Lisa. “Postcards from the Canyon”, Bywater Books, 2017.
A Rebellious Existence
A few years ago I read Lisa Gitlin’s “I Came Out for This” and was moved to tears by the beautiful language and sensitive story. Since that time the book sits in a special place in my Jewish and Gay Library. I had not thought much about it lately but then “Postcard from the Canyon” arrived and I was so happy to see a new book from an author whose work I lived so much. I cleared my day and sat down to read and soon realized that I was having the same emotional sense that I had when I first read her previous book and suddenly every thing in life felt good.
We meet novelist Joanna Jacobs who is dealing with the sudden and totally unexpected death of her mother. She is disillusioned by her writing career and has begun to write bout her childhood in Cleveland in the 1960s. She was doing so in the hopes of refocusing but actually finds herself writing a journal of her own rebelliousness. Being a member of two minorities, Jewish and gay, she is unwillingly to endure the scrutiny and the rejection that comes with being different. Her youth was chaotic and filled with her denial of who she was. The backdrop of the times included the Kennedy assassination, the new music racial problems and white flight, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Joanna was guilty of her own internalized homophobia. She was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward where se realized that life was fun but leaving it, as she had to, made her realize that age and maturity change the way people think and that childhood is a temporary state.
It was how she felt about herself and her crazy home life that caused her to act out in all kinds of ways— she led a neighborhood campaign to torment a lesbian couple and she became her school’s number one behavior problem. Her behavior was alarming to all around her (except her parents who saw her as perfect). This is what led to psychiatric ward, where she fell in love with the nurses and some of the adult patients and became friends with a bunch of crazy kids, and has so much fun that she never wants to leave.
When we move forward some fifty years, Joanna is in New York and writing a book as a try at regaining control of her life. The world she writes about is much different than the one she lives in and her personal life is certainly not what it should be. The friends that she had as a girl are still with her as an adult and one of them has remained a close friend. The other friend is the object of Joanna’s ire.
After a bomb threat to a conservative talk-show host, the FBI comes to her and she is soon involved in “an unexpected immigrant invasion, a crew of juvenile delinquents in her living room, and a never ending low pressure system.” Things have become too difficult for her to handle by herself and she turns to her friends only to discover that there are unresolved issues between them.
“Postcards from the Canyon” is a look at Joanna’s “changing world, where control is an illusion and chaos offers shelter from an unrelenting storm.”