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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Schlossberg explores ‘Life in Miniature’ with audience

Published: February 4, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

Reading ‘Life’: Author and Brandeis alumna Linda Schlossberg ‘91 reads excerpts from her first novel, “Life in Miniature,” and answered the questions of members of the Brandeis community.
PHOTO BY Haley Fine/The Hoot

At an event hosted by the English Department, Brandeis alumna Linda Schlossberg ’91 read excerpts from her debut novel “Life in Miniature,” a tight family portrait of a mother and her two adolescent daughters. After the reading, she answered questions and spoke about the long process of getting a first novel published.

“Life in Miniature” is a coming-of-age tale set in California during the 1980s, told in first-person from the perspective of Adie, a preadolescent girl with a sense of humor and a fierce loyalty to her mother and sister. Throughout the novel Adie has to struggle with the fact that her mother is rapidly losing control of her sense of reality and submerging herself in her paranoid delusions.

The novel is preoccupied with the theme of smallness. Born prematurely and weighing less than one pound, Adie has to navigate the world from her tiny perspective. Reading from the beginning of her novel, Schlossberg illustrated her main character’s position in the world with apt sensory details, “One pound. Most everything weighs more than that. Pick up a tennis shoe or an old book that’s lying around. That’s me you’re holding in your hand.” When her mother’s paranoia finally leads to a bizarre road-trip from dingy motel room to dingy motel room, Adie discovers, to her surprise, that it is really her world that has become too small.

Schlossberg’s reading of her novel’s opening scenes laid out the kernels of the mother’s madness and Adie’s loyalty. Afraid of burglars, Adie’s mother starts obsessively checking the locks on the windows of their apartment before she goes to bed. Each night she scolds Adie for leaving her bedroom window unlocked. Adie confesses to the reader, “The truth is, I unlock it every night … That way my mother won’t think she’s been checking the windows for nothing.”

The tension in the novel is between Adie’s loyalty and love for her mother, which leads her to participate in her mother’s fantasies, and Adie’s growing realization that, if she doesn’t act soon, her own life will spiral out of control.

While the themes and plot of the book broached serious topics, the reading made it clear that the book told its story in a light tone. This is largely because of the amusing and engaging voice of the narrator, Adie. In one scene she describes what she thinks are the creepy characters at the Disneyland theme park, “Why was everyone shaking hands with them and pretending they didn’t know there were real people inside?” There were many funny one-liners during the reading that made listeners chuckle.

Schlossberg revealed afterwards that she does not think the book itself is humorous, “In my head I don’t think it’s comic … but the fact that it’s written in a child’s voice creates a dissonance that gives it levity.”

The use of the present tense and direct address made for an intimate listening experience. It was like the main character was having a conversation with her audience. During the discussion that followed the reading, Schlossberg explained her decision to write in the first person, present tense. “Children don’t have a sense of the past … they’re playing with a toy, they’re so focused on it in the present. They have little sense of the future … they’re very much in the present.”

While Schlossberg was writing the book, she read authors that wrote from the perspective of young narrators such as Elizabeth Berg and Mona Simpson. In that way, she learned the “tricks” of writing from a child’s perspective. She explained how a child narrator can see things that are not meaningful to them, but are to the readers.

Schlossberg also offered advice to new writers, suggesting that they enter writing contests.

“It’s something anyone can do … It’s a good way to get your feet wet, gain confidence and get feedback from people you don’t know.”

Near the end of the event, Schlossberg detailed her experience as a first-time novelist, describing how it is usually a long process. She pointed out that she discovered that “Life in Miniature” was accepted for publication two years ago and was only being released now.

“I lived with the book for a long time,” she said.

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, this article included an incorrect quotation, which appears above in corrected form as: “In my head I don’t think it’s comic … but the fact that it’s written in a child’s voice creates a dissonance that gives it levity.” Also, the article misstated the timeline of the publication of the book. The book was accepted for publication two years ago.