Carolyn's Reviews > Here They Come

Here They Come by Yannick Murphy
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May 20, 2008

it was amazing
Recommended for: you! you right there!

A badly-written review for one of my favorite books:

The prospect of capturing the moment when childhood is lost is one of modern literature's greatest quests. From Catcher in the Rye to East of Eden, coming-of-age novels depict character's maturing because change is so evocatively and universally remembered. Portraying characters on the brink of adulthood, however, risks nostalgia, or worse, caricature. Too many adolescent characters speak in a teenager's voice with an adult's comprehension of what's going on and what it means. Yannick Murphy expertly dodges nostalgia when she captures the fleetingness of youth in her second novel Here They Come.

This exuberant novel, by the author of The New York Times Notable Book Sea of Trees, is the story of an observant and unnamed thirteen year old girl living in 1970s Manhattan. She's precocious, of course, and about as clever, unapologetic, and shrewd as any heroine in fiction. Her unwavering voice is peppered with witticisms and brutal truths though it is decidedly adolescent; memories are obscured and distorted and she sees more than she can possibly grasp.

Her idiosyncratic family includes two equally precocious sisters named Jody and Louisa, a suicidal brother who keeps a loaded shotgun in his room, a big-hearted and empty-pocketed mother, and an alcoholic French grandmother named Ma Mere who is strapped to a chair. Their home is a ramshackle fifth floor walk-up, complete with vermin and garbage, which the narrator coolly explains is due to the fact that they do not have private pickup and have been cited for leaving bags in public receptacles on the street. Besides a herd of roving cats and a dog that resembles Peter Pan's "Nanny," the narrator spends most of her time in Central Park with a hot dog vendor who dispenses Hershey bars and words of wisdom in exchange for coping a feel.

Here They Come unfolds in scenes of absurdity and the everyday, a progression of declarative and sometimes surreal moments, in which the unflappable narrator faces the disappointments of normal life. These moments, described in straightforward vignettes and very funny scenes, can be introspective and insightful, aided by Murphy's roaming and decidedly poetic sentences. Murphy gives her narration a childlike energy at the beginning of the story, saucy but not necessarily savvy, and the weight of maturity towards the end.

It is the narrator's ne'er-do-well father, a pornographic film editor and gambler named Cal with a girlfriend referred to as "his slut," whose disappearance sets the action in motion. At first, Cal's absence does not surprise his children. "Check your wallet," the narrator's sister Louisa replies when "the slut" calls to ask if the children have seen their father. When the police say they believe Cal is in Malaga, "the slut" and the narrator's brother travel to the south of Spain to search.

Back in New York, the family continues to fend for itself as life goes from bad to worse. Meals are sporadic and the children feed themselves onion and mayonnaise sandwiches. Pulling at her gut, the mother says, "If I could slice this off and feed it to you, I would." What weighs heavier on the narrator than her hunger is the physical fading of the adults in her life. Her mother faints often, which she attributes to menopause, though cancer is suggested by the wobbly lump under her skin that is "so big and hard it could be the Hope Diamond." Ma Mere's health deteriorates also, as does the narrator's friend the hot dog vendor, who is sick with a heart condition.

As all of the adults around her waste away, the narrator and her sisters yearn for their absent parent. There seems to be no end to their longing for their father or the goodness they think his return will bring; "we dream of him and in the morning we tell each other our dreams where he is living with us again, fixing salads, whistling, standing in doorways." His reappearance inevitably disappoints their hopes. On their first visit to see their father, the narrator says that, "we hold out our hands to our father and he laughs and in our hands he places lint from his pockets instead of money." Even with their father back in town, the brood can't seem to catch a break.

While the remarkable resilience and humor of the narrator are at its heart, disappointment is the crux of Here They Come and it comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the grace with which Yannick Murphy shows her character's undoing, the moment when, unfulfilled and unsaved, the narrator has to change the way she sees her world. "You will always see less as you grow older," Ma Mere tells her granddaughter, "otherwise you would not want to go on." Here They Come may shake many from idealizing adolescence, but its sometimes brutal and always heartbreaking elegance will haunt all who read its masterfully written pages.
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