Y: A Novel

The opening of Marjorie Celona's debut novel Y contains enough similarities to Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina that it begs the question: homage or imitation? Both novels commence with a hapless daughter describing the circumstances of her entry into the world with adult omniscience. Both daughters are born prematurely and illegitimately to impoverished teenagers; both suffer childhoods damaged by instability and abuse. Fortunately, Celona's novel diverges from Allison's after its parallel parturition--where Bastard Out of Carolina exposes the fallacy of equating maternal love with safety, Y exposes the anomie that occurs when well-intentioned maternal abandonment is followed by inadequate and abusive foster care. The core of Y is not the insecurity of home, but a foundling's quest for home."

Celona's single-letter title refers to the site of baby Shannon's abandonment: the doorstep of a YMCA on Vancouver Island. The author also riffs on Y as a signifier, plotifying its shape ("The wishbone, fork in the road") and spelling out its existential homonym ("Why?). Shannon attempts to reconcile her Y/why dilemma by telling two stories: her mother's and her own. Celona pulls off this sleight-of-narrative in blunt, tamped-down prose that is worthy of comparison to its literary precedent. The scenes are swift and clear, the transitions are well-cued and the reader's sympathies adhere easily to Shannon's lonely, stubborn efforts to squirm into a safe place in the world. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo.com.

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