A bed and breakfast in Phoenicia, New York, is a long haul from the German housing project where seventeen-year-old Russian-born Sacha Naiman (of Alina Bronsky’s Broken Glass Park) lives. But it’s here—in a violet room with filmy white curtains and a claw-foot bathtub—that Sacha’s angry, intelligent voice grabs me. It doesn’t take long to learn that her fury derives from the murder of her beautiful actress mother, Marina. Sacha blames her mother’s compassion and romantic nature for her death. Her two dreams are to write a book about “…An Idiotic, Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive If Only She Had Listened To Her Smart, Oldest Daughter,” and to revenge Marina’s death by killing her abusive stepfather, Vadim, who shot her. The setting is grim: Sacha lives in the Russian ghetto in Berlin surrounded by brutish teenagers, superstitious neighbors, and hopeless alcoholics. But her vital prickly spirit overshadows the heat and despair of the projects. She’s bigger than her surroundings and bigger than the silence and Yankee simplicity of my room in Phoenicia. While I have no need to escape from my lovely environment, I slip away and hang out with someone contrary to the hushed feeling of my surroundings.
My private visit into Broken Glass Park reminds me of when I accompanied my ten-year-old pal, L., to an audition for a summer performing arts camp. Clever girl that she is, she brought a book along in case of having to wait for her appointment. Having spent far too much time waiting for auditions, I applauded her forethought; I envied her ability to leave that unpleasant anxious place of pacing mothers and hair twirling ‘tweens and spend her fifteen minutes prior to her name being called as privately as if she were in her bedroom. Watching her, I thought of my recent visit to the doctor—sitting in the examination room clad in nothing but a large paper napkin engrossed in T. Coraghessan Boyle’s sad and beautiful short story, “A Death in Kitchawank” in the January 18 New Yorker. Besides being transported from the charts of female reproduction, I enjoyed stepping into a bubble of privacy in a less than inviting setting. On the subway ride home, I secretly smiled as the 6’3” guy in sweats across from me who nearly tipped over his thermos of protein drink, so taken away was he by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.