Jane Alison masterfully constructs an interiority unlike anything before in her novel Nine Island. The prose used in this novel is experimental, lyrical, and poetic. Alison takes the reader on a journey with an aging woman living in solitude with only the company of her cat. The story is constructed in such a way that the reader has no choice but to ride each and every intimate wave that splashes over the page.
“Three decades of wandering among men. I have to ask myself, For what? Who made them the trees, the stars?” J, the fifty-year-old woman living on one of Miami Beach’s Venetian Islands, is beginning to wonder what her issue is with men. After the end of her marriage she spent some time working through a handful of past boyfriends, and when she finally thinks she’s found one worth sticking by—he kicks her out and sends her back to solitude.
J agrees to go on a few awful dates, but she’s convincing herself all the while that being alone isn’t a bad thing. She fantasizes often about the men she sees on her walks, and she wants to believe that these fantasies are a sufficient replacement for the real thing. It isn’t long before we come across a potential reason for what she calls her bad luck with men: “Daddy distant; stepfather near. / Awfully, awfully near. / Does a person still need to spell these things out? . . . Surely a person doesn’t have to spell these things out.” This is one of many small clues we get from J throughout.
She lives in solitude, but she has a few interactions with some of her mysterious neighbors— N and P. J and N bond over pain: N’s being physical, and J’s emotional. The two strike up a strange bond, and N pushes J to stay in the dating world, telling her, “If you retire from love, you retire from life.” Although this advice seems to haunt J, she is hard pressed to survive alone with nothing but her Ovid translations and the company of her old cat.
Nine Island is poetry and prose all in one. Readers of both genres will cling to its pages, wondering where this stubborn woman is off to next. Alison writes the mind of this character with such grace and honesty that it’s hard not to find at least a small piece of yourself in the character. Nine Island is witty in its small winks and nods at real world problems, but with a clear focus on the problems of the individual. Alison will have you laughing and cringing all at the same time, while expertly planting the seed that loneliness isn’t the only key to happiness.