The Night Gwen Stacy Died
By Sarah Bruni
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mariner Books, 2013
Bruni’s captivating voice guided me though this book, which is a unique combination of Midwestern gothic and comic book surrealism.
Sheila Gower is a 17-year old high school girl, with a job at a Sinclair gas station and a dream to leave Coralville, Iowa (her hometown) and move to France. She lives an ordinary life that gets turned upside down by a taxi driver, Peter Parker, who is a regular at the Sinclair station. I don’t want to give away too much of this plot, but on a whim, Sheila and Peter set off on a Bonnie and Clyde (without the violence) type of Midwestern adventure.
This is a unique and quasi-surreal book that reminded me of a cross between a David Lynch and a Godard film, with a Midwestern setting. Comic book readers will know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man’s real name, and Gwen Stacy is Peter Parker’s first love. After meeting Peter Parker, Sheila takes on Gwen’s identity and through her Bruni explores a teenage girl’s first love and her desire to have more in her life than high school, a gas station job, and parents who wash and dry dishes together. The book also looks at how we can take on, and slip between, identities when we are in love, sometimes losing track of who we are. As I turned the pages, I had no idea where Bruni was going with her story (and how she was going to end her book), but I was intrigued by her themes and drawn in by her beautiful prose. I also felt like she ended it on just the right note, though some readers might wish for a bit more drama.
Bruni, originally from Chicago, now lives in Brooklyn. I discovered this book when I heard Bruni read this summer at the Franklin Park reading series. EW interviewed her about the book and her life in their Shelf Life blog.
I bought this book at an independent bookstore.