The bulk of “Alice in Shtuppingland” is set in the year of 1977, in a world that is as socially and economically turbulent as at any other time. For Alice Wonderland, certainly, the year-and-a-bit that passes in the duration of this story holds more than its fair share of obstacles.
The character of Alice is already in her mid-20’s as the story opens, but it’s still appropriate to call this a coming-of-age tale. She is alone in a city that’s quite removed both physically and environmentally from all she’s known. She had her reasons for choosing Boston, but the subtext of the opening few pages is that this young woman was more focussed on what she was leaving than where she was going.
This subtext can be found weaving its way throughout a great deal of this fascinating tale. Alice is at times infuriating and frustrating, for the reader as much as for the characters with whom she shares her time. Her confrontational nature seems to attract her to those who enjoy confrontation. I found myself alternately wanting to take her by the hand and squeeze it, and then take her by the shoulders and shake her. And because of the stubbornness and independence she gained from a dysfunctional upbringing, neither action would have had the effect intended.
For all that Alice already has some life experience under her belt (and, of course, below it!), Boston imparts on her a very steep learning curve. She’s a smart cookie, but throughout the course of the story, in many different ways, she begins to understand the marked difference between knowledge and experience, and the yawning divide between facts and feelings.
At times there is a stream-of-consciousness feel to the writing. It’s as if we’re sneakily reading this woman’s diary. Certainly, fictional or not, most events have a truly confessional quality to them. Ms. Abalard’s style is very readable, alternating in tone between conversational and instructional. Moments of danger and tragedy are deftly condensed and compressed, adding gravity and intensity. They may take up only a handful of lines in the story space, but they’re conveyed with a weight which belies their size.
This deftness in writing extends to the characters as well. All bit players are given breath, flesh and life. That includes the characters we never meet, some of whom have left their footprints (and handprints) all over Alice.
There is meticulous attention paid to detailing geography and the paraphernalia of everyday life. At first I was tempted to praise Ms. Abalard’s research. But as I read on, I gained the impression that it wasn’t so much research as memory and experience. A touch of nostalgia here and there, as well.
And lastly, there’s the sweet novelty factor in reading about single-digit cab fares, and the need for pay-phones, about fancy new gadgets like telephone answering machines, and the crazy idea that one day people might have computers inside their own homes!