Brooklyn Boro

The winter of adolescence

Brooklyn BookBeat

April 5, 2017 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Author Julie Buntin. Photo by Nina Subin
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Julie Buntin’s searing new novel “Marlena” is evocative of that specific suspended time in young womanhood when every decision feels like the most important, and every friendship feels life-long. But also of the stark, suffocating cold of northern Michigan where the book takes place. And where, like in so many rural towns, people are struggling, opiate addiction is rampant, and a feeling of desperation permeates the landscape.

Fifteen-year-old Cat is depressed and lonely when she moves to Silver Lake with her older brother and newly divorced, often drunk, mother. But everything changes when she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts — first drink, first cigarette, first kiss — while Marlena’s dangerous habits harden and calcify.

Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.

Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Buntin’s “Marlena” is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.

Author, Julie Buntin’s story in The Atlantic entitled “She’s Still Dying on Facebook” is about the the friendship this novel is based on and became one of the most shared pieces on their website. Rachel Fershleiser, of Electric Literature, classified Buntin as “something like the poet laureate of the young and female and working class.” Jonathan Safran Foer wrote, “She writes the kind of piercing, revelatory sentences you have to read to whomever is near, sentences you find yourself remembering years later.”

“Marlena” came out earlier this month and was published by Henry Holt. Buntin is slated to appear May 11 at Greenlight Books. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches fiction writing at Marymount Manhattan College.


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