The Gin Closet

by Debbie Stoller

The characters and situations in The Gin Closet feel familiar; close cousins to the women who populate Lifetime movies, sad songs, and countless other novels.

In fact, the two main characters seem almost like cliches: Stella, the recent college graduate living in New York, overqualified for her demoralizing job, sleeping with a married college professor, jaded before her time; and Tilly-an aunt Stella only learns about at her grandmother’s deathbed-the beautiful ’60s wild child with a self-destructive bent, now living an abject existence as an alcoholic in a trailer park in a small Arizona town. However, this does not make their sufferings (and they are myriad) boring for the reader. Jamison constructs a narrative that is relentless, with confessional chapters alternating between Stella and Tilly’s points of view. That Jamison is able to render cliched characters affecting is a feat, but there’s a voyeuristic thrill that lends the story a rubbernecking quality-we are momentarily glued to the spectacle, and then we move on. Jamison’s language is densely figurative, which at times succeeds, providing insightful, beautifully written metaphors. At other times, it falls flat, a euphonious phrase concealing a tenuous connection: “I heard noise in the background, the rustling of glass and gossip.” Does glass rustle? The most interesting aspect of the novel is the difference between Stella and Tilly’s accounts of the same events, which show the ways the women misread and misunderstand each other, the hurts accidentally inflicted, the annoyances poorly concealed. Unfortunately, it is never their language that we hear but Jamison’s.

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