From the author of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Empathy Exams and the memoir The Recovering, Leslie Jamison’s “exquisitely beautiful” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel about three generations of women and the inescapable brutality of love.
As a young woman, Tilly flees home for the hollow underworld of Nevada, looking for pure souls and finding nothing but bad habits. One day, after Tilly has spent nearly thirty years without a family, drinking herself to the brink of death, her niece Stella—who has been leading her own life of empty promise in New York City—arrives on the doorstep of Tilly’s desert trailer. The Gin Closet unravels the strange and powerful intimacy that forms between them. With an uncanny ear for dialogue and a witty, unflinching candor about sex, love, and power, Leslie Jamison reminds us that no matter how unexpected its turns, the life we’re given is all we have: the cruelties that unhinge us, the beauties that clarify us, the addictions that deform us, those fleeting possibilities of grace that fade as quickly as they come. The Gin Closet marks the debut of a stunning new talent in fiction.
Jamison's beautifully written debut follows independent young New Yorker Stella and her estranged aunt Tilly as they form some version of a family. Stella is disenchanted with her life and job as a journalist's personal assistant; Tilly is a professional lost soul, a former prostitute, and an unsuccessful recovering alcoholic. To all appearances, Stella is the savior, finding Tilly, who's been shunned by the family, to rescue her; but through alternating first-person accounts, the reader grows to view the two women as equals. Their experiences with men especially mirror one another's; Tilly has merely had worse luck. Stella describes wanting a man, "any man, who could offer his face as a label for my loneliness"; later, recalling men she's been with, Tilly says, "most of them I didn't even like that much, but they seemed like the easiest way to change my own life." The relationship between Stella and Tilly is compelling, as are their relationships with auxiliary characters, like Stella's brother and Tilly's son, but what truly drives the novel is Jamison's gorgeous prose.