Postcards from the Canyon
Lisa Gitlin Bywater Books (DECEMBER) Softcover $16.95 (360pp) 978-1-61294-111-0
Gitlin’s writing is sharp, infused with a dark, irreverent wit.
Postcards from the Canyon, by Lisa Gitlin, is an engrossing, poignant journey through one woman’s past and present.
Faced with the recent and unexpected death of her mother, disillusioned and heartbroken writer Joanna Jacobs takes up the herculean task of chronicling her tumultuous upbringing in 1960s Cleveland, Ohio. The story shifts from past to present, comingling former hurts and learning experiences with Joanna’s modern endeavor to evade a psychiatric evaluation ordered by the FBI.
A seemingly benign bomb threat to a conservative talk-show guest is what brings the feds to Joanna’s door, but it is soon revealed that she leads a life plagued by rebellion and self-denial. Knowingly gay, but unwilling to expose herself to scrutiny and rejection, Joanna spends much of her young life fostering chaos, even spending some time in a psychiatric ward.
The writing exercise that begins as a means to reflect and get her life back together becomes a journal of Joanna’s consistently tumultuous surroundings. Two lifelong friends form a tangible connection to her past; they offer both solace and immense anger, making the details of Joanna’s life even more difficult to put to paper.
Although Joanna’s journey is fictional and at times quite outlandish, it is structured around real history. A snapshot into a rapidly changing world, Joanna’s account is particularly interesting because, despite coming of age in a transformative decade, she was still required to navigate the rampant homophobia and anti-semitism of her close-knit community.
Gitlin’s writing is sharp, infused with a dark, irreverent wit. Joanna, despite her many foibles, is immensely dynamic and likable. Her anger and restlessness, caused by a lifetime of disobedience, heartache, and oppression, is understandable, even if some of her actions are not.
Shifts in time and setting keep the story fresh. The present-day FBI plot is impressively maintained throughout the novel, adding an extra layer of dynamism to an already superb text.
Postcards from the Canyon is a nontraditional coming-of-age story that shows that age doesn’t always foster resolution and clarity.