A picture’s worth a thousand words, and sometimes a life is worth even more. Ah, Sweet Life, a piece of fiction written by E. Adrian Dzahn, tells the tale of Andy Gabe and her incredible life story. Striking out young, Andy heads to Illinois in 1968 to surprise her college-bound girlfriend and get a fresh start. Andy finds herself amidst the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement in Chicago; soon she’s finding jobs, making friends, and developing romantic relationships. The novel follows Andy through her roller coaster of a life: her youth in Chicago, time spent in a farm commune, years of being homeless in Boston, and her journey to the Pacific Northwest coast. All the while, Andy hopes that memories of her past won’t catch up to her; however, it’s what her family doesn’t mention that she needs to worry about most of all.
Ah, Sweet Life is an incredibly well-written, thought-out story. Although not packed with action at every turn, the language embraces the reader and pulls them into Andy’s world. There are well-rounded characters, lovely imagery, and beautiful language on every page, not to mention the variety of intriguing settings. Just when the reader may start to feel bored of Andy’s home, she up and moves somewhere entirely different. There’s hardly a dull moment to be found in the entire text. Death, sex, rape, and drug use are all reoccurring themes, though none of them are explicit in any manner.
Seeing as the novel starts with Andy in her late teens in 1968, then follows her till her mid-forties, it would be expected that some facets of history work their way into her life. With the exception of the Gay Rights Movement and some baseball games, no points in history play a prevalent part in the book; yet this is not necessarily a bad thing. History happens all around Andy, which serves as a nice reminder for the period of the novel. Presidential campaigns are rallied, the death of John Lennon is touched upon, as is the assassination of Harvey Milk, and famous natural disasters are referenced. It sets a nice tone for what is happening in the world during the novel, while putting heavier focus on the thriving 70s gay and lesbian scene.
While the first half of the novel centers around young lesbian women living and working together, Sweet Life really comes down to being about the people who come into each other’s lives and how radically things can change in the blink of an eye. Life moves fast, and sometimes years can pass by without any notice. After the first third of the novel, the whole tone of the book shifts. Without divulging any spoilers, the novel takes a turn into examining the things people inherit from their parents: personality, alcoholism, and sometime things far worse. Andy must learn to cope with the traits she inherits from her father, as well as other troubles from her family’s past. Ah, Sweet Life is about finally learning how to heal one’s past hurts; about learning to feel anger over things that have happened, then learning to finally let go. Andy’s life is an amazing journey – one readers will feel grateful having had the chance to experience the ride.
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