Reviewed by Nick Sweeney -
Sidewalk Dancing: A Novel in Stories by Letitia Moffitt
Atticus Books - November 2013
|Billed as a novel in stories, Moffitt's Sidewalk Dancing, the retelling of the McGee family, is at times a novel, at times a collection of short stories, at times neither and sometimes both. Novel-in-stories live in the world of in-between and this collection is no different.|
The result is a meaningful exploration, one not about the results but of the journey, and channels both humor and sadness in artful fashion. Early on, in the story "Model Homes," the character George, seemingly channels Moffitt's intentions for the reader: "That's how I designed it—to be interesting and unique, not just another one of those horrid boxy little houses cranked out by the hundreds, all laid in a row."
The narrative of the overall book shows the rise and fall of the family. There is George, who travels from dream to dream, never staying long enough to see the conclusions of anything until it's too late, his wife Grace, who is stuck between the world made for her and the world she makes for herself, and there is Miranda, the bystander product of George and Grace's marriage who watches her parents' dreams fly and crash. She is in a constant search to define family. The narrative switches between the three characters, from the first meeting of George and Grace to the conclusion of the family's constant dream-chasing.
Sidewalk Dancing is an ambitious book, whether the reader would like to see it as a novel or a collection of short stories, and its ambition at times gets in the way of the elegance it hides inside. Like memories, some of the stories like "Incognito" and "That's Nothing" are perfectly captured while others like "Sidewalk Dancing" and "The Leilani Diner" seem unfocused, and like memories, we find out a little bit about the members of the McGee family in indirect and subtle ways. The collection itself is a photo-album, one that has many old memories that are placed together due to the space on the page. The lack of constant growth may be off-putting, but I believe that is the point. We are meant to question the spaces in-between.
Moffitt has something here that hints at the layers beneath the surface, of things we want and don't want to hear. Read it with the full picture in mind; read it with self-reflection and thoughts of the word family.