Monday, January 26, 2009

Response to Miss New York Has Everything by Lori Jakiela

With wit and keen observational skills, Lori Jakiela’s “Miss New York Has Everything” shows us the life of a girl growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, always wishing, as her father did, that things could be different. The chapters are loaded with personal reflection. The voice is strong and steady, and seems genuine even given the exaggeration that is suspected in some scenes. The primary energy seems to be lyrical, though, by the end, an arc of a story - her life interwoven with her father’s - emerges.

Lori Jakiela uses humor in much the same way as Sheryl St Germain uses raw truths and metaphor, each page is dripping with it. Other things come to light underneath it. And one turns the page because of it.

As I read this book I appreciated some stylistic choices Lori made. She frequently used one sentence paragraphs such as: “My father in death was suddenly popular”, “I blame Marlo Thomas” or “And then there was fitting day.” And she sprinkled in quick one-liners as well: “What did I know?” “What could I say?” or, my favorite, “Well then.” In addition she used dialog in interested ways, sometimes three simple lines carried so much information or tone or scene. Other times one line of dialog was followed by back-story, or even new story, for a whole paragraph before the response. In fact, on page 242, she carried on for over 2 pages (until p244) before giving us the follow-up part of the dialog.

The opening, while not exactly a road sign, set us up to understand what followed. I loved the closing - finding her way home from the air by looking through the airplane window at the line of traffic below, taillights specifically, on Grand Central. That was perfect.

The characterization of her father was very well done. The cursing and gestures helped as well as the consistency throughout the book. She felt no need to make him perfect just because he died, or just because it turned out she loved him … a lot. And I don’t much like repetition in a book but I smiled each time I read “those bastards” or “cockroaches, all of ‘em.” In the end I felt her compassion for this sometimes-unlovable man.

While I enjoyed the writing for the most part, I did wish for more plot or pull forward. I confess if it weren’t homework I may have put it down for good by about the chapter “My Life in Translation”. Early in the chapter she finally gave words to what I thought was obvious, (and perhaps the theme of the book): she and her father were looking for happiness somewhere in the future (“off the next exit ramp”). But by the middle of that chapter I was tiring of delving into riff after riff. I was yearning for more depth or action, I think.

Ultimately though, I was glad I kept at it, because the honesty and tenderness used to describe her father’s last year made it worth it. I would welcome more detail on her transition from lonesome-future-planner to wife and mother. Did she continue to skip like a stone? Or did she settle within herself enough to simply be in the moments life offers? I think she insinuated the latter, but I wondered: why not show us some of that?

This book didn’t really “crack my frozen sea” as Kafka might say, but I know a man very similar to her father, and I know I will pass this book along to his daughter, who is, ironically, also an ex-flight attendant. I will do this not only because of the hilarious flight attendant stories, but also because of the insight Lori Jakiela showed us as she internalized the meaning of her father’s life, (and her own, perhaps) including his inability to realize his dreams, even as he was living them.


  1. Excellent analysis, Janice! I hope you'll bring up some of these issues in discussion tomorrow.

  2. I agree that the meat of the book is found after her father becomes ill. Definitely bring these questions up tonight, especially in relation to why she made the choices that she did--to wait for real depth until the end of the book.


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