Column: No Longer and Not Yet

“No Longer and Not Yet” is the title of a recently published book by New York City author Joanna Clapps Herman from which she will read at Manhattanville College on March 24. The event is free and open to the public.Lisa-Jardine

If you’ve never been to a book reading, I highly recommend you go to this one. And if you enjoy book readings, you will not be disappointed. Herman’s new book is a collection of short stories that primarily take place on the upper west side of Manhattan, most of which involve fictional residents of an actual building, 370 Riverside Drive, where the author once lived.

“The stories in ‘No Longer and Not Yet’ look at the ways our lives are lived in the split seconds between what is no longer but is still not yet and, although we think of ourselves in larger, mythic narratives, these stories look closely at the ways in which our days are set in the terrain that is the opposite of the vast,” Herman said.

Jardine-Clapps-Herman3Most of the stories in the book take place as our lives do, in the shops, at the kitchen tables, underneath the covers, walking in parks, pushing swings; all places that reveal everyday lives. These stories just happen to be told on the upper west side, a well-known tiny neighborhood inside one of the largest cities in the world.

The stories are woven together seamlessly. The main focus of the book is Tess, her husband Max and their son Paul, who are based on the author, her husband and their son.

“Most of the characters in the book are based on people I know, but only loosely based,” Herman said.

The book opens in Rome, where Max and Tess first meet, but then the stories quickly return to New York City, where they remain until the end of the book. Each story is a separate chapter and can stand alone, but the characters are all connected to one another, either by long-standing friendship or simply just by being a good neighbor.

The stories are all different, yet Herman does a fine job of making them come together to tell a complete story.

The book reminded me very much of Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge,” one of my favorite books of the past decade.

Joanna Clapps Herman

Joanna Clapps Herman

The stories Herman tells are universal. Regardless of where you live now or where you grew up, you can relate to, and identify with, the young mother, or to the childless couple, who believed they were happy and satisfied until a death forces them to re-evaluate. Or maybe it’s the middle-aged woman you can relate to; the one that’s been in therapy for years who, when her therapist announces they are finished and it’s time to move on, falls into despair.

Living in a small community in the suburbs isn’t unlike living in a small community in the middle of a big city. Our neighbors become like a pseudo-family if we are lucky, but the good kind of family, one in which there is always someone looking out for you.

There’s a great story in the book about a couple who gets divorced and, instead of letting the family break apart, they buy another apartment in the same building so they can stay together as best they can.

Herman even incorporates the “famous” homeless characters that live in the neighborhood, from the flower lady to the man who lives in a box. The apartment dwellers know them well; they worry about them and bring them soup and sleeping bags when the temperature drops. Small moments and intimacies of life are woven together to form a bigger picture.

A hand-drawn map of Manhattan’s upper west side, the setting for the linked short stories in Joanna Clapps Herman’s book, “No Longer and Not Yet.”

A hand-drawn map of Manhattan’s upper west side, the setting for the linked short stories in Joanna Clapps Herman’s book, “No Longer and Not Yet.”

When I read, especially in paperback form, I tend to underline prose that stands out and makes me think about things in a different way. This notating happened so often while reading Herman’s book I can no longer lend my copy to anyone.

Myra Goldberg, author, professor of writing at Sarah Lawrence College and a reviewer of the book, summed it up perfectly.

“Time and the city are the subjects of these beautifully connected stories,” she said. “Children are born and become themselves; marriages take shape; a handsome doorman opens the lobby door; snow falls on a man who lives in a box outside. Like Tolstoy, the writing is both exquisite and transparent, and everything is bathed in feeling and light and intelligence.”

The author herself once lived in the building and her book’s title and one of its earliest stories has its origins in an old New Yorker article that was stuck to the building’s community bulletin board acknowledging the famed German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt once lived there. At first, this knowledge stunned Herman, then she couldn’t see how that knowledge had any significance whatsoever on her life, which in turn prompted the writing of one of the stories.

The book’s title, “No Longer and Not Yet,” is from a quote that Arendt’s infamous Nazi lover, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, once said.

“The phrase, no longer and not yet, is a phrase that Heidegger uses about time, and since one of my stories was about Hannah Arendt and her relationship with Heidegger, as soon as I heard the phrase, I knew it was the title of the story.” Herman said. “It’s so evocative of what I’m trying to capture; where we actually live our lives while we look forever backward and forward.”

Joanna Clapps Herman has been called both saint and bard of the upper west side and, after finishing the book, you’ll understand why. You can purchase her book on amazon or on the website of her publisher, www.sunypress.edu.

Bring your questions for the author to the March 24 Manhattanville reading, or wait and let Herman’s gorgeous prose and melodic voice convince you that you need to hear more. Either way, come to the event, sit back and be transported to a time that is no longer and not yet.

“No Longer and Not Yet”

Available at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle

www.sunypress.edu

The author will read from her work on

March 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Manhattanville College—Reed Hall East Library

She is available for readings at book clubs and organizations

Joannaclappsherman.com

Contact her at jclapps@gmail.com

212-663-1015

She will also perform a reading at 370 Riverside Drive 

(the stories’ home)

Thursday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m.

370 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y.

Community Room

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“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, emai lisa@hometwn.com And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand