“Whereabouts” is a short novel that follows the solitary life of a middle aged woman through her daily movements from place to place. The novel consist of 46 chapters, each of which is a different place. Through her regular activity we learn a great deal about the life of the unnamed protagonist, who is a 45 year old university professor.
The novel begins with the main character seeing a close male friend on the street. There is some sexual tension between the two, but the man’s wife is a friend and nothing seems to happen between them. This man, his wife and their children are the one constant throughout the novel. At one point, due to a medical emergency, the protagonist takes care of their house and their dog for a number of days.
A few of the chapters are entitled “In My Head.” Through these chapters and certain others, we learn quite a bit about the main character’s family. Her mother, who at the time of the novel is quite old, was difficult and emotionally abusive. “…oh what rages she would fly into, when she way my age! I remember days, in summer, when I’d be tempted to get up and close the windows so that the neighbors wouldn’t hear her, because I’d blocked that rage inside.” Her father was introverted, tight with finances and died young and suddenly. She reflects that when she is in a store, “if I admire something but don’t buy it, if I walk out and manage to avoid the cash register, I feel like a virtuous daughter.” She blames much of her solitude and unhappiness on her childhood. “I mourn my unhappy origins.”
We learn a bit about her romantic life–the former boyfriend who was leading two lives, the prior lovers, the married men. “Never married, but like all women, I’ve had my share of married men.”
Most of the book is deeply introspective although parts are also observational. The main character seems deeply unhappy although she has moments of peace. The end of the novel provides some hope that she may find a way to work out of her isolation. The novel is beautifully written and the style and format evoke emotional connection with the main character. I really liked this novel but it is not a traditional novel with a traditional story and may not be for everyone. You can reserve this novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.