Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

As I read Austinite Sarah Bird’s most recent novel The Gap Year, I  felt such a strong connection to her writing style and humor, and the setting, theme and characters of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder if she and I are twins separated at birth.  The two main characters of The Gap Year are Camille (Cam) Lightsey and her daughter Aubrey. Cam is a single mom who has given up on men, but has never gotten over her one true love, ex-husband Martin, the bohemian philosopher she fell in love with on a European backpacking trip. Unfortunately, Martin eventually became more interested in seeking his ultimate “being” then the “being” he sprouted in Cam's uterus, so he deserted her and the babe to hide in a cult for 16 years.

Cam raises Aubrey alone struggling to get her into the best schools, the cutest clothes and with the right kids. Absurdly, she’s also a hippy snob who thinks that people who send their kids to the best schools, dress them in designer labels and push them into cheerleading and football are poseurs. Cam is a Lactation Consultant living in a part of town where the word ‘lactation’ is never uttered, but she longs to live where dreadlocked, Birkenstocked, patchouli-reeking women gather in pocket parks, openly breast-feed their four-year olds, and share their hopes for world peace.

Surprise, surprise! Cam raises a daughter who is a conflicted rebel, which terrifies Cam because she sees herself in her daughter. Teen Aubrey is clueless about what she believes, but certain about what she doesn’t believe: anything that her mom does. She despises the popular-kid clicks and then falls in love with the captain of the football team. She resents her abandoning dad but lets him in her life via Facebook. The classic life-and-family struggles ensue and we see ourselves and find comfort in knowing that we’re not alone in the universe of family craziness. Click On Read More Below...

I loved that Bird (pictured) didn’t give us perfect characters or a perfect ending. Life is just not that tidy. We stumble through most of it barely keeping our noses above the lapping waves and, occasionally, fall into bliss. I also loved that Bird hinged everything on the imperfect, unique and pure bond of family.

Complaining reviewers gritched that Cam and her edgy best-friend Dori’s dialogue were implausibly witty; the breast-feeding stories were more information than they wanted; and that the mother and daughter conflict is an over-hashed theme. Reviewers who loved The Gap Year (including yours truly) swooned over Bird’s sense of humor, how well she drew the characters, and the grace with which she segued between the story perspectives of Cam and Aubrey

Sarah Bird is a campy and sagacious writer with a delectable vocabulary.  The Gap Year isn’t perfect, but it’s damn near. 


  1. Faulting writers for too clever dialogue--it's like saying Aaron Sorkin's characters are just too smart, too eloquent. My response is that it's a pleasure hearing people live up to more than their potential. We've only got so much time on earth; why bog things down with dialogue that takes too long to get to the point?
    Speaking of writing, "Life is just not that tidy. We stumble through most of it barely keeping our noses above the lapping waves and, occasionally, fall into bliss."--that's some very good writing there. Newphew Jack

  2. Thanks Jack!! Couldn't agree more (re: living up to more than potential). Appreciate the comment and the compliment.