Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Look at Me Now
By Thomas J. Hubschman
Paperback: 168 pages, December 28, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0966987768
At 40 years of age and after 20 years of marriage, Dierdre Davis has just left her husband, and is trying to create a new life for herself. This is the overall premise of Thomas J Hubschman’s Look at Me Now, and Hubschman sets up the suspense well, drawing the reader’s into Dierdre’s mingled fear and bravado, as she removes herself, shopping bag by shopping bag, from a life that revolves around a man who is portrayed as violent, overbearing, philandering, and egomaniacal. It’s a difficult extraction made harder by a lack of money, an overwhelming love for her schizophrenic son Kevin, and another relationship with a controlling man.
The story follows Dierdre’s transition as she moves from dependence to independence, including a quirky friendship with the wife of her ex-Superintendent. Dierdre is a well drawn character with a strong degree of verisimilitude, but there are elements in her personality that indicate that she isn’t an entirely reliable narrator. Her ex-husband is always referred to by his whole name – Tim Davies, which is odd after 20 years of marriage. Her relationship with the new boyfriend, Harry, is full of pathological masturbation, odd sex, and obsessional arguments. She doesn’t really commit to her job, and her relationship with her mother is both hostile and whiny.
However, there’s a real tenderness that has an almost mother daughter feel that develops between Dierdre and Emma Cleary, the ex-Super’s wife. Emma is paralysed, and in a nursing home following her husband’s suicide, and the relationship between the two women is probably the strongest catalyst for Dierdre’s transition. The unconditional friendship between the two develops in surprising ways:
You could have flash-frozen my face at that moment, I don’t think it could have looked more surprised. No one ever made any but the most cursory of inquiries about my life—whether I liked the Northwest (I hated it but couldn’t say so), how long were Tim Davis and I married (I usually added on a year, as much to make it seem that he wanted me for myself as to cover up our shotgun marriage). (133)
There is also Dierdre’s relationship with her son—one that begins with her assessment of his vulnerabilities and ends with the realisation – a fairly profound one for her as a character—that he has actually developed into a stable and strong person of his own.
The book is rich with the New York City setting, from exhibitions at the Public Library and the Whitney museum, to the office blocks and cafes across Fifth Avenue, through the Upper West Side. Hubschman really knows these streets:
I know every shop window, practically every vendor along Broadway, at least by sight, from 96th Street all the way up past Columbia University. I felt as if I could easily pop into Sloane’s on 96th Street to pick up something for dinner and then return to the apartment on 121st. (95)
Look at Me Now is an easy to read, fast paced story. Both Dierdre and her son are strong, rich characters whose development is pleasurable and engaging from start to finish.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , and Imagining the Future. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks.