I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book. All opinions are my own. Drifts is on sale now.
Drifts obviously wasn’t written in 2020 but as I started reading it, it felt like it could have been about someone during our current global state of quarantine. There is a claustrophobic, repetitive feeling to the narrator’s days that reminded me of the life many of us are living right now. She doesn’t go out very much except to walk her dog around the neighbourhood where her interactions with the neighbours occur at a distance. Her interactions with friends also take place from a distance, through texts and letters and emails. Her partner goes to work and she enjoys her solitude but also misses him and is at loose ends on her own. Later we see her teach at a university but even there her interactions with others seem awkward and limited.
And yet the book is actually set in 2015 and 2016 (it ends at the very end of 2016). It is the story of a writer named Kate who works as a sessional instructor at a college in New York. She’s written a few books and lives with her partner John and their dog Genet. She is writing, or trying to write, a book called Drifts. It’s all very meta. And while I enjoyed it for a while – the quiet echo of the world I see around me right now as we all stay home and feel a little depressed – the book drags on and on. I wanted to quit but by then I was 200 pages in and didn’t want to feel like I’d wasted my time.
Kate spends some time thinking about whether or not she should have a baby. She wants to write and live a monastic life and thinks (probably correctly) motherhood would interrupt her regular routine. Frequent mention is made of her heavy periods, her difficulties with her body. She believes she has passed out of the fertile stage of her life. (Perhaps this is a metaphor for her struggle to finish her book.) Then, unexpectedly, she finds herself pregnant. This is something that seems to happen to her without her knowing how it happened (despite the fact that she is in a committed relationship and is close to forty years old). She is unsure whether or not she wants the baby. She is unsure of how they will manage, where they will live, how she can keep doing her job. The storytelling becomes increasingly focused on the physical – how her body feels, what she does with it. Obviously this is a large part of pregnancy, especially, I assume, an unexpected pregnancy. She has a strangely physical relationship with her dog and is obsessed with the cats in her neighbourhood.
I can admit that I’m bringing a lot of my own emotions to this novel. I’m not unsympathetic to unplanned pregnancies and I’m not unsympathetic to how difficult pregnancy and all that surrounds it can be for women. I felt very unsympathetic to Kate in this novel. She doesn’t really do anything. She spends a lot of time moping and reading abstract things and watching foreign movies and thinking about Rilke and looking at the same pictures over and over again. She’s unhappy with her life and her circumstances but at no point does she do anything to affect any change. Not a single one. And I know, I know, it’s not always that easy but, as far as we see in the novel, she is a privileged, educated, middle class white woman.
I can also admit that I found the book kind of pretentious. It’s filled with references to artists and movies and books that I’m not familiar with. And even the ones I’ve read and seen and know of are not ones I’m particularly drawn to or passionate about. The narrator seems to exist in a level of academia that is real, I know it is, but is off-putting to the rest of the world. I feel annoyed because I’m not clever enough to get all of her references but also annoyed because I too am a privileged, educated, middle class white woman who spent a good chunk of 2016 being pregnant and yet very little in this book spoke to me.