The Pollen Room

Author:Zoë Jenny
Publisher:Simon & Schuster

Swiss writer Zoë Jenny debuts with a unique voice perfectly suited to the tale it tells. The Pollen Room is narrated by Jo, a teenage girl growing up amid the pieces of a shattered family life. Her divorced and dysfunctional parents form the absent center of Jo's drifting days. Mistreatment from a careless mother emerges as the cornerstone of Jo's malaise.

A spoiled, nihilistic cello player who befriends Jo, an unsuccessful tryst with a boisterously off-key singer, and the constant noise of construction in the town next door number among the series of generally sour episodes that define Jo's life, but a tender magic in the telling makes this short novel a pleasure to read.

Jenny delineates characters and their sobering world with the clear-sighted truthfulness of a child. An economy of descriptive detail imbues each bit of information with greater meaning: “He stands there with his mouth wide open, a small black hole beneath his nose. His too-long arms dangle from their sockets like plants that have been ripped from their beds. We stand there for a moment, silently staring at each other. I can see the pain in the black disks of his eyes, which gradually seem not to see me anymore but in which I begin to think I can make out my own reflection.”

Jo is not bitter; she describes her world with a lyrical sensitivity and this mode of narration becomes a metaphoric template for the way in which the child needs to be treated. The Pollen Room is ultimately a tale of love, of the damages its absence inflicts and the necessity to nurture that which is dear.

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