The day was wide open before them, which could go either way. Elastic enough to hold all the things they’d fill it with, or gaping wide and bloated–it would depend on the kids’ temperaments and her own. Everything was still possible from where she was lying now, though, and she relished the moment. The whole house quiet, life as she knew it. This, this, this.Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare
I‘d been looking forward to meeting Mitzi ever since I first heard about her. But Mitzi, it turns out, is kind of elusive. Although she’s been blogging since the final years of the last century, and has even had a couple of moderately successful books published, no one but her creator knows Mitzi Bytes’s true identity. No one, that is, until Sarah Lundy gets an email from the mysterious Jane Q: “Guess what–this game is over. You’re officially found out.”
If I were to make a list of the things that I love in books, Mitzi Bytes would have them all. Feisty children; domestic mess; the sense of what a day lived-well with small children might look like; characters reading books; ambiguity; conversations about identity, motherhood, selfhood, blogging and books. And, secretly, who doesn’t love a page-turning mystery, a puzzle to keep revolving in your mind as an array of suspects are presented before you?
My first read of Kerry Clare’s debut novel was a speedy affair, a page-turning romance. The six hour crossing we take to France has never gone faster. I remember sitting through the shouts & laughter of the kids’ magic show totally engrossed in the domestic life of Sarah Lundy & her Mitzi-sized problem; then later hunching over one of the child-sized tables in the soft play room wondering how we’d got to a point where I could spend the whole ferry ride reading & just which of Sarah’s friends or family was going to turn out to be the increasingly unhinged Jane Q.
Then Mitzi Bytes went to rest on top of B’s bedside table and accompany him on his commutes to work. There was a lot of laughing (puppet sex scene! — which, incidentally, wasn’t the only puppet sex scene I read over Easter, there’s also one in Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten-Year Nap) — and also a lot of snorting.
Just how much have you told Kerry? he kept asking, amused at the similarities between me and Sarah Lundy. Same name, check; programmer husbands, check; “secret” blogs, check; fathers who died when we were eleven, check; proclivity for curtain twitching, check. And this reminded me, happily, of those among Sarah’s acquaintance who, after she’s been revealed as Mitzi, are certain that they’ve found themselves and their stories in her blog posts, even though she is adamant that their lives never interested her enough to write about.
Sarah’s more immediate concern is the friends she has written about, the stories she has told which she is now forced to see have more than one truth. “Life has always struck me as a many-sided shape, no single moment experienced by any person ever existing in just one way,” Sarah writes in a blog post late in the book. One of the joys of Mitzi Bytes is following this thought, and Sarah’s musings on the multiplicity of the self and the connections between who we are online and who we are in the world, as well as whose stories we are morally able to tell.
By the time I got my hands back on Mitzi Bytes I’d reread Carol Shields’s first novel Small Ceremonies, quickly followed by her last, Unless. They were both just as good as I remembered, but it’s Small Ceremonies I found the most enchanting. There’s something about the modesty of its scope, the tightness of its construction over an academic year that is irresistible. While Unless is a masterpiece, Small Ceremonies is the most beautiful and endearing apprentice-piece, a small, perfect cabinet, displaying all of the preoccupations and themes of Shields’s later work, but with a rough-edged freshness, the joints just-visible if you really look.
Rereading Mitzi I thought often of Small Ceremonies. The books share a similar preoccupation with family life, and in particular what it means to be known within a marriage. Sarah Lundy and Shields’s Judith Gill, both discover that their perfectly-known husbands have hidden compartments and secrets of their own. I hope that Mitzi Bytes is just the start of what Kerry is going to do, that, like Small Ceremonies, it will be a jumping off point as well as an enchanting destination in itself.
Mitzi Bytes is funny and clever; page-turning and thought-provoking; light and perceptive. All in all, it’s a contradiction that might be worthy of Sarah Lundy herself.
Full disclosure: It’s with the greatest excitement that I have anything to disclose — a first for this blog! Kerry sent me this copy of Mitzi, who is rather hard to get hold of in the UK, with the most lovely dedication. We’re online friends who’ve met once, so I can vouch for the fact that her own daughters are just as wonderful as Sarah’s.