By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

Following hot on the heels of Mumbo Jumbo, the next entry on the list of “books I feel like should have been on my literary curriculum but never were” is By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, Elizabeth Smart’s intense…novella? multi-part prose poem?…regarding her long-term affair with poet George Barker. Did I know that when I grabbed it at random off the library shelf? Absolutely not. Did I think for a minute that the Elizabeth Smart of my own growing-up had written a novel with a title off a prog rock album? Shamefully, yes, but I was disabused of this notion as soon as I read the back of the book. Considering its light weight and my impending vacation, I figured this was a good contender for a back up English book to have with me and checked it out alongside Ali Smith’s Summer.

The comparison that immediately springs to mind is Requiem över en förlorad stad and Cold Nights of Childhood. We have a nameless woman wandering through the locations of her own memories, though the narrator seems more chronologically bound in Grand Central Station than in either of the other two. While highly surreal throughout, you can still trace a narrative thread that begins with meeting Barker in person, continues through the consummated affair and subsequent periods of separation until it ends sometime after the birth of the narrator’s child, all of which is rendered in evocative and startling metaphor. This will undoubtedly be a re-read for me at some point in the near future, though with my own copy that I can safely mark up and read at my leisure.

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Stockholm-based translator and copyeditor of American extraction.

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