The slightly gushy letter that prefaces Meg Fee’s book of essays (at least in my proof copy) made me wonder if it would be for me but its premise – a young woman finding her way in New York City, always a lure – made me press on. Fee’s short pieces cover thirteen years, a collection of raw yet beautifully crafted snapshots of her painful coming-of-age in the city she had dreamed of inhabiting, growing up in Texas.
Fee wins a place to study drama at Julliard, taking it up despite her parents’ quiet reservations. The seductive dream of New York City took root long ago in Fee’s psyche but fulfilling it proves harder than an idealistic eighteen-year-old could have imagined. After ending a brief acting career, she finds herself drifting, following the all-too-predictable route of waiting at tables and menial dead ends in a post-crash economy. She falls in love with an unattainable man setting the template for a string of relationships which never seem quite right. Female friendship is hard to come by, as are decent places to live. Thinking to combine the two, she finds herself trapped in a bedbug infested basement with a roommate who not only refuses to accept the reality of her misery but who turns nasty with it. Throughout it all Fee struggles with an eating disorder, depression and grinding loneliness, eventually renting a room in a Harlem house and finding real friendship. By the end of this short book, Fee has decided it’s time to say goodbye to her New York dream after thirteen years of struggling to fulfil it.
All that may sound like your average everyday misery memoir, not my cup of tea at all, but Fee’s eloquence steers her book well clear of trite self-indulgence evoking empathy in her readers as she lays bare her heart in words that makes you flinch waiting for the next blow:
Hunger seems preferable to sadness, and so I cling to it
A returned coffee lid, an extra set of hands. A lifetime of not always having to ask. Occasionally I am rendered breathless by how much there is to look forward to.
Fee punctuates her vignettes with brief descriptions of what home would mean to her, becoming increasingly less ambitious as time wears on until she realises that home lies within herself. Perhaps not the most characteristic read for me but one that touched me far more than I had expected.