‘Girl Who Never Read Noam Chom­sky’ is jolt­ingly vul­ner­a­ble

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Classifieds - By Christina Ledbetter

“The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chom­sky” (Knopf), by Jana Casale

Leda walks through life with a con­stant fric­tion be­tween ex­pec­ta­tion and re­al­ity. We meet her as a self- con­scious, hope­ful col­lege stu­dent in Bos­ton will­ing her­self to be­come the woman she thinks she should be (one who reads books by Noam Chom­sky).

In­stead, the or­di­nary min­utes of Leda’s life morph into decades, and we fol­low her through­out adult­hood. She sorts through her un­der­wear drawer and con­cludes, “I value af ford­abil­ity.” She talks to strangers at a party while her friend kisses a new boyfriend on the couch. She scans Yelp re­views in search of a gym. It’s these com­mon scenes com­bined with Leda’s pierc­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity with read­ers that cre­ate Jana Casale’s stel­lar de­but novel, “The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chom­sky.”

The story is lin­ear, but we do catch quick glimpses into the past and fu­ture. Casale in­tro­duces these snap­shots so seam­lessly that read­ers will re­main an­chored in the present yet find them­selves pos­sess­ing a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the main char­ac­ter’s cur­rent state.

Leda’s ob­ser­vances slyly hyp­no­tize read­ers into yearn­ing for or de­test­ing the peo­ple around her. When her cousin (the one the fam­ily can’t stop gush­ing over due to her ro­mance with a doc­tor) eats “potato salad with swift over­achiev­ing mouth­fuls,” read- ers will loathe her ap­pro­pri­ately. Leda’s re­flec­tions also add a con­sis­tent dose of well-timed hu­mor.

Body im­age places a sig­nif­i­cant role in the read, dom­i­nat­ing much of Leda’s thoughts. Her in­ner di­a­logue proves raw and ar­tic­u­late, por­tray­ing feel­ings many will re­late to with sharp elo­quence.

Casale’s writ­ing pos­sesses a cer­tain snap, in­stantly re­lat­ing us to her pro­tag­o­nist. Read­ing her work is like watch­ing a play from the dress­ing room as the heroine squeezes into pants she hopes con­ceal ex­tra weight, tries to make sense of last week’s onenight stand and mur­murs her lines be­fore step­ping onto the stage.

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