April 4, 2017 by carlywont
When I cracked open my library’s copy of The Ramblers, this is what I read on the flap: “Part love letter to New York City, part tour through the wilderness of the human heart and mind, the book asks, ‘Maybe that is the point after all? To be lost?’”
Yikes. Whoever wrote that flap copy should get a side job writing quotes for high school yearbooks.
Then, when I opened to the first page, I discovered the book’s main character is named Clio Eloise Marsh.
Double yikes. I can’t help but cringe at basically anyone who feels the need to use their middle name.
I also wasn’t feeling too keen on reading another book about misguided rich people who feel bad for themselves in New York City after finishing Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest a few months ago. I already have enough rich New York City people in my real life. Do I need them in my fictional experience, too?
Apparently I do because I read this book in about three days, lackluster though it may be.
The Ramblers is split among three narrators—Clio, an awkward yet loveable ornithologist unsure of her clearly amazing relationship with a famous hotelier; Smith, a trust fund kid who is considered totally quirky because she likes green smoothies and wants to follow her passion for Kondo-esque organizing; and Tate, a techie entrepreneur-cum-photographer going through a divorce who belongs on West Egg.
The book takes place Thanksgiving week and culminates with Smith’s sister’s wedding. Throughout the book, Clio works on confronting her family’s past so she can move on with her life, Smith struggles to accept the fact that she’s not married yet, and Smith and Tate navigate a burgeoning interest in one another.
Each very short chapter features a rotating narrator and time stamp. Books that are organized like this are like reading candy to me. I’m all about that shifting perspective. The structure is the main reason I flew through this book, though there were parts of it I genuinely enjoyed, too.
Donnelley Rowley’s writing shines when she explores Smith and Clio’s friendship. As each of their pasts are revealed, the reader’s understanding of their friendship deepens and it suddenly makes sense that they’re friends (something you’re unsure of at the beginning of the book). I genuinely liked both Smith and Clio and parts of their narrations were completely relatable.
Tate, on the other hand … Ugh, Tate. Many of his chapters were excruciating to read. I got the distinct impression at certain moments that Donnelly Rowley has never been close to a human man because some of her depictions of his private moments were utterly lame and stereotypical (eg: scratching his balls type stuff). He was way underdeveloped compared to the women in the book and I found his narration unnecessary. The real crux of this piece is the friendship between two women, so why throw in this random dude? Who cares about him? Not me.
While the ostensible theme of the book is being comfortable with seeking, even into your thirties, I never felt like the characters were really all that lost. Each had successful careers, money, solid relationships and direction. Show me a 33-year-old who bounces from crappy job to crappy job every three months, struggles to keep up with student loans and destroys every relationship in her life and I’ll buy the whole lost narrative.
I wish the book was marketed as a book about friendship in New York rather than “finding oneself” in The Big Apple. As such, it comes across as sort of a trite piece about poor little rich girls bemoaning the fact that they’re not married by 32. But if I thought it was going to be a book about friendship from the very beginning—and if it was edited to reflect this theme—I think I would have been happy with it.
Despite my criticisms, I did think this was a good book to read on my staycation and would recommend it as a quick beach read.
I also picked up some interesting New York City facts I didn’t know and an inspiration to read Here Is New York by E.B. White. Do a quick five-minute Google search about the Waldorf’s Track 61, a secret train platform FDR used to use to enter the hotel in the 40s. Now that’s badass.
New York has so many interesting places and things. And people. Unfortunately, just not this book’s three protagonists.