(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 9, 2000)
"Secondhand. The words says it all -- other hands have touched that object. Think of all the things we touch every day, the million tiny linchpins that hold our lives together - the coffee mugs, the tie clasps, the alarm clocks , the sunglasses, the key fobs, the beanbag ashtrays. What if they absorbed some scintilla of you, as if the oil from your fingers carried the essence of your soul?"
"But I do think that when you own something that once belonged to someone else, it's like some secret contact with them, with their past. A way to touch people without having things get all messy and emotional.
That's what secondhand is. But then there are always people who worry about whether those hands were properly washed."
Richard is a thirty-something self-deprecating, philosophical guy who thinks he is anything but cool. Normally, he's shy, awkward and defenseless. That is, until the day he actually waves a woman into his store. In a very short time, he ends up falling hard for this woman, Theresa, who's a hipster, junk goddess with an eerie fascination for the Day of the Dead. She works at an Animal Cruelty Prevention Shelter, which takes in the pets others discard. Ultimately, she's required to kill the animals, a nightmarish activity that stands in the way of her and any relation she's had or could have.
Meanwhile, Richard's dying mother does the inevitable, she dies. It is up to him and his sister to sort through their parent's belongings and, ironically, hold an estate sale. Although experienced at going through other people's things, Richard is not prepared for what he learns about his own parents.
What I like best about this novel, is that he never stops "junking." While Richard gets first hand experience at love and death, his obsession never wanes. He stops at estate sales on the way to the funeral home, during the wake he walks out the back door to visit a neighborhood tag sale. He has to think seriously before taking Theresa along on a junk excursion, worried about the after affects if they are not compatible junkers. And even though I would not be interested in the majority of the stuff he picks up, I love looking over his shoulder. As for me, I keep wanting him to sort through the box of books he casually mentions and walks past or saves for last.
And then there's the whole art of junking. Zadoorian conveys the process of scoring with such veracity, that I believe he speaks to anyone who has ever collected anything. But it's more than the collecting. He tries to to get the point of possessions as well as the process of letting go.
Reading this novel validated the incredible time in my life after my grandfather died and the family decided to sell the contents of their home through an estate sale. I drove out to the Berkshires four consecutive weekends so that I (alone) could obsessively go through every item in that house from attic to basement, cleaning and organizing in preparation for the big sale (which I did not attend). Logically there wasn't any reason to do this (as I was told many times). It was pure emotion. Maybe I just needed to touch the life forces of generations of Crowthers and Clarks.
I highly recommend Second Hand. Zadoorian is a crisp and humorous writer. It's one of those novels where every line is quotable and often profound. The characters are fallible, yet likable, in a human kind of way. The story is unique and the ending is satisfying. In writing this review, I've nearly reread the entire novel and will probably do so again. What can I say? Every writer writes their first novel, but not every writer gets it right.
Now if you'll excuse me, I spy a yard sale (that's what us New Englanders call it) getting starting next door (really, I'm not making this up!). I wonder if they have any books...
- Amazon readers rating: from 32 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- CityPaper.Net review of Second Hand
- Laughing Sun book review of Second Hand
- FlakMagazine review of Second Hand
- HackWriters.com review of Second Hand
- Austin Chronicle review of Second Hand
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About the Author:
Michael Zadoorian was born in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up on the northwest side of the city, where his father was a photographer for the electric company. He was educated in the public schools, then earned both his B.A. and M.A. in English at Wayne State University in Detroit. There he received three Tompkins Awards for his fiction and essays, as well as the Loughead-Eldredge Scholarship for Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in The Literary Review, The North American Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Ararat, and American Short Fiction, as well as various international journals. He is also the winner of the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for 2001 in fiction.
Zadoorian currently works as a freelance writer and copywriter. He lives with his wife in the Detroit area in a 1937 bungalow filled with many strange old objects and a death-row cat named T-Bone.