Reviewed by Nina Longfield
Stephanie Lacava’s memoir, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects, is a fun, insightful and unique rendering of the memoir and coming-of-age genres combined. This is the story of a twelve year old American girl uprooted for the sake of her father’s career and moved with the family to a small community outside of Paris, France. Lacava’s reflections are at times humorous, while at other times she evokes a great sense of loneliness and a need to be noticed. She personifies objects found during her explorations, seen in museums, or given as presents as a means to connect with her surroundings.
Stephanie Lacava’s younger self appears to be the quintessential pre-adolescent outsider trying to find her footing in her changing life, both internally and externally. Although the usual coming of age angsts are magnified through the isolation of living in a foreign land, I wondered whether the author’s realities would have been similar at any location. This is a portrait of a young girl with a unique perspective of the world around her. Lacava’s descriptions and memories are so vivid; it is like she had the foresight and sense to catalog her recollections as well as she did with her wonderful collection of oddities from her youth.
Objects flow through An Extraordinary Theory of Objects like a stream. Throughout the memoir, Lacava weaves tidbits of information about the objects she collects or sees. Sometimes her objects represent people, such as the mustache being a representation of her father. Other objects represent historical facts or geography or any number of subjects. In general, the objects of Lacava’s life seem to illustrate ideas.
I suppose the one downside of An Extraordinary Theory of Objects, if you can call it a shortcoming, is that this book reads very quickly. Lacava jumps through time leaving holes in her young character’s existence. Just as I felt I was coming close to knowing the main character, whoosh, a year had passed and she was once more a stranger. This is not entirely a bad thing as the action of the narrative and time jumps appear to further alienate the young character making her more vulnerable.
Lacava’s writing is fluid and enchanting. Her stories seem to come alive on the page. Her notes about objects are entertaining and fun to read. Even the presentation of An Extraordinary Theory of Objects is beautiful with illustrations, by Matthew Nelsen, of Lacava’s objects featured throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed Lacava’s memoir and look forward to reading more of her writing.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.