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The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

The familiar woes of middle age are fresh and funny when captured in couplets

Cover of The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel about Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem by Sonya Sones

Sonya Sones has written four winning novels for young adults, including one singled out by Publishers Weekly for best children’s-book title of 2004 (One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies). In them she depicts the maelstrom of contemporary teen life with a light touch, even when addressing such heavy matters as bullying, mental illness, or a death in the family — and all that in verse, no less.

Now, turning her attention to stressed-out middle age, Sones has produced The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem, likewise written as a series of poems. The engagingly accessible style of her YA novels remains intact, as does her understanding that when everything is driving you crazy, sometimes you just have to laugh.

Her 50th birthday, Holly Miller tells us, is
rushing at me
like a cinderblock wall while I try
in vain to slam on the brakes.

Her gynecologist informs her,
“You can stop using your diaphragm now.”

Her 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, is applying to colleges,
none of which
are within a thousand-mile radius
of home

And lately Holly’s editor, Roxie,
(who’s twelve years old if she’s a day)

has taken to texting her
from her freaking iPhone,
or her iPad,
or whatever the hell she’s using these days,
to ask, “WHEN CAN I C UR BUK? =)”

As for her husband:
Michael has oodles
of endearing attributes.

It’s just that
at the moment,

I can’t seem to think
of a single one.

So it’s not exactly shaping up to be a great fall, even though her 80-year-old mother reassures Holly,

“Your baby-making days
may be over, but you will always be
my baby.”

Actually, Mom is another source of worry. When Holly and Michael visit her in Cleveland for Christmas,

She’s admitted to having had
some mysterious aches and pains lately.
Though she’s refused
To see her doctor about them.

A few months later Mom falls out of bed, can’t get off the floor, and speed-dials her daughter. Holly stands there,

sweating clear through my T-shirt
while trying to figure out

how the hell to call 911 in Ohio
when you’re dialing it
from California.

At the hospital, her mother is diagnosed with a painful muscle inflammation called polymyositis and given massive doses of steroids, which make her hallucinate and bite her nurses. Or perhaps, casually suggests Mom’s physician, the well-named Dr. Hack, steroids aren’t the culprit:

“It could be the onset of dementia.
Or maybe even Alzheimer’s.”

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