Short Takes: “Leave Me” “Perpetual Carnival”

New selections from Pittsburgh authors
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Pittsburghers could read “Leave Me” for the same reasons they’d see a movie filmed and set here. It’s a kick to see the city as a backdrop, collecting references to your favorite coffee shop (Commonplace in Squirrel Hill), local slogans (“I Bleed Black and Gold”) and outright praise (“she stared out the window at the elegant brick homes that Pittsburgh seemed to have in blithe abundance, like an overripe tree dropping apples to the ground”).

But Gayle Forman provides more than local scenery in “Leave Me.” This is an easily absorbed and expertly crafted novel about a 44-​year-​old Manhattan woman who up and abandons her dilatory husband, demanding twins and annoying mother to “get better, really better.” The set-​up might sound like a Lifetime Television special. Yet any male who’s not a total ogre would appreciate Forman’s story of Maribeth Klein, a stressed-​out magazine editor who suffers a heart attack but can’t peel away from her myriad domestic responsibilities long enough to heal. So she leaves an email note, withdraws half of her inheritance in cash, takes the night train to Pittsburgh and rents an apartment in Bloomfield.

Though she lands in one of the nation’s citadels of health care, she continues her postsurgery care with a possibly tarnished doc in solo practice — he’s the only one who will take cash and not neb into her background. He’s a perfect match (and also a mensch enough to pick out the lice and nits that Maribeth brought with her via her kids). Turns out that Maribeth didn’t select Pittsburgh at random, and her quest for the real knowledge of her life is beautifully handled by Forman, giving the novel another layer of discovery.

She also gives us a new way of regarding the Fort Pitt Tunnel experience. Maribeth “sees what all the fuss is about” when she finally gets a ride through. “It was the surprise factor Maribeth had liked best. Coming into the tunnel through rolling Pennsylvania hills, with no hint of what was awaiting you on the other end.” It’s gratifying to see our city capture the imagination of a serious storyteller.

Colin maccabe is an authentic British intellectual and film producer who trots the globe and hangs out with highbrow stars such as Tilda Swinton. Yet since 1985, he has been spending nearly half of the year teaching in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a Pittsburgh booster way before Conde Nast magazines caught wind of our charms. To catch a glimpse of his range as a critic, academic and contagious enthusiast for serious cinema, order “Perpetual Carnival.” “Neither literature nor film is going to save us. Indeed, both have lost much of their importance in my lifetime,” he writes. “But the very act of criticism assumes that they can make some improvement.” Perfect understatement.

John Allison

John Allison reviews books for Pittsburgh Quarterly.

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