Half a Life by Jill CimentHalf a Life by Jill Ciment

Half a Life

byJill Ciment

Paperback | August 18, 1997

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Unflinchingly honest, moving, and funny, Half a Life shows how a girl without means or promise and with only a loving mother, chutzpah, a bit of fraud, and a lot of luck turned into somebody. In 1964 the Ciment family left middle-class Montreal for the fringe desert communities of Los Angeles, where their always unstable father lost the last vestiges of his sanity. Terrified and broke, in a world he could neither understand nor control, he came apart. When the family finally threw him out, he lived for weeks in his car at the foot of their driveway.

Ciment turned herself into a girl for whom a father is unnecessary-a tough girl who survived any way she could. She and her brother Jack helped support the family by working for a shady market researcher, quickly learning to supply their own answers to burning questions like, "Did we like Swanson TV dinners? If so, why? On a scale of one to ten, how would we rate the new Talking Barbie? Arrow wax? Dr. Ross's dog food?" She became a gang girl, a professional forger, and a Times Square porn model. Using a friend's SAT score she cheated her way into art school, and seduced and eventually married her art teacher, a married man thirty years her senior.

By turns comic, tragic, and heartrending, Half a Life is a bold, unsentimental portrait of the artist as a girl from nowhere, making herself up from scratch, acting up, and finally overcoming the consequences of being the child of a father incapable of love and responsibility.
Jill Ciment is the author of  Small Claims  and  The Law of Falling Bodies , which The New York Times called "a radiant first novel...keenly observed and beautifully written."  She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Foundation for the Arts.  She teaches creative writing at Columbia Univ...
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Title:Half a LifeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:220 pages, 8 × 5 × 0.5 inPublished:August 18, 1997Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385488912

ISBN - 13:9780385488914

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Read from the Book

That weekend, my mother called. Her voice sounded nervous, with a ping of unadulterated panic. Knowing how touchy I could be, she mentioned only a couple of the incidents Jack had enumerated- -my difficult job search, my new, dreamy attitude about work. Then, with dire restraint, she brought up Yvette and asked if what Jack had told her was true.I sighed deeply. I said she knew perfectly well how strait-laced Jack was, how judgmental. The boy must have been a vicar in another life. She should have faith in my perception of people, a little trust in her own daughter. I said she had absolutely nothing to worry about.My mother had everything to worry about. Yvette was crazy. Or on the iffy brink of it. Over the next few weeks, I watched her collect near-mortal fiascoes and hysterical encounters the way other people collect glass figurines or Faberge eggs. She fought with every grocer for blocks around, with every neighbor who shared a common wall. She never returned from a cab ride without the driver having tried to rob or rape her. She rarely returned from a walk without a "perfectly respectable-looking" pervert having tried to flash her. She taped flesh-colored Band-Aids over her nipples, then wandered the streets in a loose-knit rope vest with see-through gaps the size of checkerboard squares. When men followed her, frothed for her, she screamed obscenities back at them. One day she came home breathless and announced with pride that a construction worker had toppled off a second-story scaffold while trying to ogle her. Another time, she greeted the Chinese delivery boy in only one of those Johnson & Johnson pasties, and when he gaped, she threatened to have him deported.She wanted me to partake in her madness. She badgered me into wearing tank tops as thin as cheesecloth, short shorts as tight as Ace bandages. I mostly obeyed her; I didn't want her to find out I was a virgin. I had told her so many lies about myself, matched every one of her lewd experiences with a made-up wanton encounter, that if she discovered the meager truth, I'd have shriveled up from shame. So I let her re-vamp me.One afternoon, she had me dress to the nines -- short skirt, slinky jersey, and platform shoes. She said she was taking me out to lunch, her treat. The restaurant she chose was near Wall Street, a garnet red room woolly with cigar smoke. We were the only women present. The maitre d' whisked us across the floor, then stuck us in a corner. Yvette ordered for me, a dish I'd never tasted before. When lunch arrived, she leaned across the table and informed me, in a voice breathless with dervish giddiness, that she'd forgotten her purse and hadn't a dime on her. I froze, but she ate with relish. By the way she stared me down, I knew I had better eat, too. I chewed on my pressed duck and lentils as if they were cardboard and gruel. When the bill came, Yvette performed her big scene, all fluster and pouts and crocodile tears until one of the men came to her rescue. Then, without so much as thanking him, she nudged me out the door, whispering, "I told you men were easy."

From Our Editors

EBy turns comic, tragic, and heartrending, "Half a Life" is a bold, unsentimental portrait of the artist as a girl from nowhere, making herself up from scratch, acting up, and finally overcoming the consequences of being the child of a father incapable of love and responsibility. "Tender, unsentimental, and filled with moments of contagious joy and heartbreak, her 'half a life' is more than most people experience in a lifetime".--"Publishers Weekly"