Despite early reservations, I kept reading The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I loved the novel in the end. It’s a strange book populated by a cast of characters so odd it seems impossible that they should all end up in the same story.
There’s Lily, the 19 year old waitress who worships Marilyn Monroe and dreams of becoming an actress. There’s Mabel, her elderly next-door-neighbour, who can’t sleep and spends her time writing the story of her life. There’s Dick and Frank, two elderly men who are so filthy they leave a black cloud wherever they go. There’s Hank, Lily’s beau-hunk of an ex-boyfriend. There’s Edward, the artist who lives in the building across the street. And then there’s Martin, an oddly menacing boy Lily has known her whole life. This wild assortment of characters live in a small town, Webster Minnesota, where Lily works as a waitress at the Ideal Cafe.
The story Hustvedt is trying to tell seems to be one about secrets and memory, youth and old age, dreams lost and realized. The whole middle section of the book, though, reads as though Lily is crazy and it’s hard to say whether this is a triumph (and I am just too dense to see it) or a failing.
In between waiting tables and sleeping with the painter from the building across the road, Lily is rehearsing her part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She also seems to be, to some degree, coming apart at the seams- although I think this is supposed to be the character navigating the tricky road from innocence to experience.
For me, though, while her coming-of-age-journey was nicely written, I never felt connected to Lily or what was happening to her. Both the real and the imagined obstacles were off-kilter…as odd as Lily and the people she spent time with.