Total Eclipse of the Heart
The Gap Year, by Sarah Bird. 320 pp. Knopf, 2011 Reviewed by Virginia Alanis Best-selling novelist is a title that has been earned by Sarah Bird. She is a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan but it seems she moved to Texas as fast as she could and her neighbors couldn’t be happier. Austin considers her a true Texas treasure. The inciting incident of The Gap Year is actually the end of Camille’s story. It shows how Camille’s life is turned upside down when her eighteen-year-old daughter Aubrey, who is scheduled to enter college in two days, refuses to claim the trust fund that will pay for college. Readers go along on a zany wild goose chase in search of Camille’s daughter but for those of you that see beneath the comedy, there is a real tragedy being stealthily revealed by Sarah Bird. It will sneak up on you even as you laugh-out-loud at the comedy. The novel’s events unfold in two separate alternating narratives: one in Camille’s voice and the other in her daughter Aubrey’s voice. The daughter’s chapters are told in chronological order, beginning a year before her mother’s story, and showing the progress of her high school romance with the star quarterback whom her mother considers to be a bad boy. Neither mother nor daughter is correct. The image this young man portrays is deceiving and his story is one of the most touching in The Gap Year. He almost steals the show. Camille’s heaven-and-earth moving effort to make her daughter obey her is told in chronological order as well but it begins at the end, when things unravel and runs in slow motion as Camille enters the labyrinth of her past in search of lost time. What Sarah Bird gains by using a shifting linear narrative structure and plotting the story in such a cutting edge innovative manner that she is able to plumb the depths of the human heart. Bird’s respect for the reader is evident in every page, she uses two points of view, giving equal weight to the mother’s story and her daughter’s story, thereby giving her readers credit for their intelligence and letting them form their own conclusions. The Gap Year has a lot of emotional resonance. After her divorce, when Aubrey is two years old, Camille has to improvise and adapt, unfortunately, she put all of her eggs in one basket, she poured all her hopes and dreams for the future into her daughter, and in the act of surviving, making a living, and protecting her daughter, Camille forgot she was still alive. She kept herself from thriving by sacrificing everything for her daughter, even her own identity. The Gap Year can be read as a cautionary tale. What happens when you don’t have anything else to give your child? When she grows up and drifts away from you? Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree comes to mind. The Gap Year is rich with meaning and can be read many ways. I often found myself laughing-outloud at Camille’s observations: Listening to the other moms about how their daughters had mutated overnight from sweet, submissive girls into snarly tramps who hated them and wanted to wear little junior-miss stripper outfits. In her twenty-five year writing career, Sarah Bird has published seven other novels, her books include: How Perfect is That (2008), The Flamenco Academy (2006), The Yokota Officer’s Club (2001), Virgin at the Rodeo (1999), The Mommy Club (1991), The Boyfriend School (1989), and Alamo House (1986). Sarah Bird has become a brand name and she is a rising star on the national literary scene as her best-selling status attests. After reading The Gap Year you will want to collect them all. Name brand authors are collectibles. For now I’m bonding with my teen daughter over The Gap Year. It’s nice when mothers and daughters can begin their own literary club and be thrilled by the same book.