Carol Ann Sima's first novel, Jane's Bad Hare Day, opens by placing us right inside the chaotic world of one Jane Samuels who, walking down the streets of New York City, is assaulted by a six-foot hare who leaves his paw prints on her forehead. From this moment on, Jane becomes an unsuspecting clairvoyant as she surrealistically looks into the near future and sees what will end up becoming the daily upheavals that fill her adventurous life.
These upheavals are multiple and are somehow connected to the fourth anniversary of her divorce from her ex-husband Harold who, it ends up, is getting remarried at a time when Jane's own life is becoming more and more unstable with each passing moment. Her hour-by-hour antics include a passionate yet empty affair with a married psychiatrist (referred to as The Fling), a new relationship with a man named Gerald whose most prominent feature is his versatile nose, and the seemingly impossible task of trying to restrain her elderly parents from becoming estranged from one another.
Sima's novel combines a strange mix of writing styles that remind one of Robert Coover's fabulist fictions, Erica Jong's humorous journeys into the minds of sexually-active, middle-aged women and Raymond Roussel's convoluted plots and curious wordplay. Reading the oddly-structured sentences in this book opens the reader up to an exciting new talent whose specialty is to use her satirical edginess in a way that turns the banality of everyday life into endless, subliminal messages where higher truths are liable to leak out.
The meta-pun that runs throughout the story is based off the book's title and Jane spends quite a bit of time looking at herself in the mirror and trying to make sense of the meaningless configuration that stares back at her:
"I work around my face. Tiptoeing. Gingerly brushing my locks that will one day be a vision of cascading waist-length hair. Periodic trims to keep them fuller as they blossom with the vigor of not so firm young saplings...Somebody hand me Crayolas. You call that hair, it's a lynch mob."
The outcome of these funny musings on what it's like to be lonely, divorced, sexually appealing and *still* looking for Mr. Right, is a far cry from what we've come to expect from conventional novels. Ms. Sima is an innovator of the narrative form and her writing is many times difficult to follow if only because she's so willing to take chances that many young writers, looking for instant commercial success, would not even dream of doing.
For example, Sima's greatest feat here is her ability to turn Jane Samuels, a "monumentally so-so" character, into an Alice-In-Wonderland-type dreamer who sees the world through imaginative eyes. One particular scene that reoccurs throughout the novel involves a man who comes out of the walls. The man, who is a very lovable guy, can appear anywhere, including the bathroom at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts or in her own bedroom wall, late at night, looking over her shoulder as she tries to read from a book. At one point he introduces himself to her:
"My name is Marty Nesterbaum. I'm forty years old. Most of my life has been spent in the streets. Thanks to your tax dollars I now live in a safe, clean environment."
As Sima explains to us, he is one of many men who now live inside the walls since this is where the City has started dislocating all the homeless men who have been taking over the streets.
Sima's humor is bittersweet. Even as she makes fun of her ex-husband Harold, who she keeps running into in the local hardware store (in fact, she begins hallucinating all kinds of wild scenes with him actually living in the hardware store with his second wife), she can't help but become obsessed with the fact that it was he, not her, who filed for divorce first, and that the very act of filing first resonates with a kind of eerie significance that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
Despite her individuality and ability to assert herself into the lives of countless others, Jane Samuels is a case study of what it's like to be an unsettled person at an age when being grounded is akin to being sane. Jane's flighty attendance to the bizarre situations of her day-to-day life will never be as fulfilling as finding that special someone who can make her life more complete. So she seeks to escape from this harsh reality by going shopping or flirting or trekking to the beauty salon, the standard strata of distractions that have been around for the bulk of this century.
Sima's Jane is constantly searching for clues that will help her resolve the dilemmas of her increasingly complex living situation. What Sima seems to be telling us is that yes, we have to play with the hand we've been dealt, but it wouldn't hurt to mark the cards with our own imaginative insights.