Put unique novel on 2014 reading list
"Sidewalk Dancing" is a beautifully written and unique novel, told in short stories — each able to stand alone — but together tell the story of three people: the McGees.
The author, Letitia Moffitt, a creative writing professor at Eastern Illinois University, has a gift when it comes to language and characterization. Her prose is easy to read but will touch your soul.
Everyone who reads "Sidewalk Dancing" will be able to relate to some character or some moment in their lives, although Moffitt's characters are unusual and distinctive.
The novel begins with the story "Knives," which introduces two of the main characters, Grace, a Chinese immigrant, and George, an American with big ideas.
Grace works at a restaurant where George eats, and she thinks a lot about knives — cutting her own skin even — but in the end George wins her over, and readers discover that the two marry in subsequent stories.
More of Grace and George's back story is told in "Model Homes," when George designs his strange dream home in Hawaii, and readers discover more about their life together.
The novel really picks up when Miranda is introduced. This is their daughter, who has issues with identity, family ties, life direction and even love. Her voice leaps off the page, as if she's actually talking to you on the phone.
In one of the most powerful stories in the book, "Living Dead," Miranda questions what it truly means to be alive. She moves away from her parents in Hawaii and takes a temporary job at an insurance agency in New York City. She meets a man who needs an auto policy. During the interview, it is discovered that he is not employed. He receives disability because he has AIDS.
Miranda also gets the flu from Tyler, a co-worker, and this sets her on a course to discover what it means to feel alive. It also leads her to finally make a connection to someone — Tyler — and in other stories, Moffitt explores their unconventional, refreshing and sometimes fun relationship.
This is what is so lovely about Moffitt's novel: Her characters are full of quirks and curious thoughts, and readers will be surprised time and again with their choices.
But the most interesting quality of this novel is how each of these stories could be read individually. Although when readers finish the novel, it would be hard to imagine not reading them all together.
In order for the stories to stand alone, Moffitt does have to repeat some information that readers already know, such as where Miranda met Tyler or the ethnic backgrounds of her parents. It's similar to when a writer pens a series and the first chapter of the book has to remind fans what happened in the previous book or allow anyone to pick up the book and follow along.
Most of these stories have also been previously published in prestigious literary magazines, such as Black Warrior Review, The MacGuffin and Jabberwock Review.
Moffitt was born and raised in Hawaii and received a doctoral degree in English and Creative Writing from Binghamton University in New York. Most of the stories in her novel are set in these two places.
If reading more is one of your 2014 resolutions, then put "Sidewalk Dancing" at the top of your list.
This novel will make you think about your own beliefs on marriage, love, living, parenting and family heritage, and even provide you with a smile or two while watching these eccentric characters live their lives on the pages of the book.
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.