A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
“Nine Island is a crackling incantation, brittle and brilliant and hot and sad and full of sideways humor that devastates and illuminates all at once.” —Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
Nine Island is an intimate autobiographical novel, told by J, a woman who lives in a glass tower on one of Miami Beach’s lush Venetian Islands. After decades of disaster with men, she is trying to decide whether to withdraw forever from romantic love. Having just returned to Miami from a monthlong reunion with an old flame, “Sir Gold,” and a visit to her fragile mother, J begins translating Ovid’s magical stories about the transformations caused by Eros. “A woman who wants, a man who wants nothing. These two have stalked the world for thousands of years,” she thinks.
When not ruminating over her sexual past and current fantasies, in the company of only her aging cat, J observes the comic, sometimes steamy goings–on among her faded–glamour condo neighbors. One of them, a caring nurse, befriends her, eventually offering the opinion that “if you retire from love . . . then you retire from life.”
The narrator of Alison's (The Love-Artist) wonderful novel, J, lives alone in the paradise of a Miami Beach high-rise condo. J spends most of her days going to the pool, working on translating (or "transmuting") Ovid's stories, sitting on her balcony, and watching her neighbors in a building across the way. She's been contacting some of her various lovers from the past, whom she refers to as "Sir Gold," "The Devil," and other monikers but none of them lead to anything serious. As she contemplates retiring from love for good, she cares for her aging cat, Buster, and a duck stranded on a traffic median. She befriends her enigmatic and troubled neighbors on the floor above her and becomes further and further entangled with them. Maybe it's due to the oppressive heat or her active imagination, but Ovid and Miami begin to blur: she sees Ovid's girls (as the narrator refers to them) in the trees, people who transform, and symbols everywhere. J faces a certain ennui: she is alone, she lacks a mate, yet her inner life is a vivid struggle to find happiness, to connect with the world outside her apartment. Yet how can she live without pleasure? With echoes of Molly Bloom's soliloquy and Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea, Alison has forged a haunting and emotionally precise portrait, a beautiful reminder that solitude does not equal loneliness.