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Book Simple: Memoirs of a Homeless Amy


a life-in-books by Amy Brown

I’m homeless, at least temporarily. Despite my adoration of the west coast and general desperation to remain here, an exhaustive eight month job search convinced me that my sole option for employment is located in Washington, D.C. As graduation approached, I arranged to release my apartment in Santa Monica a few weeks before my lease in northern Virginia began. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d pack up early, send off my car, hop on a plane and head out to a new life. The boyfriend and his roommates would simply have to put up with a squatter for a few nights. Unfortunately, being unmoored to a lease has rendered me rather petulant.

Without an apartment to call my own, with my favorite vintage plates, my books and my Dad’s original oil paintings packed away, it feels a little like I’ve lost a part of myself. In particular, that part of me that I present to other people seems as boxed away as the rest of my belongings. This feeling made me eager to read the Memoirs of an Invisible Man, by H.F. Saint, a novel about a man, “right in the middle of [his] rather ordinary…life” who experiences an “extraordinary scientific mishap [that] rendered a small spherical chunk of New Jersey utterly invisible.” Unluckily for our narrator, he formed part of that chunk.

An investment banker, Nick Halloway is visiting MicroMagnetics to determine its potential profits; instead, after a fierce altercation between a group of students protesting nuclear power and scientists more wrapped up in their experiments than reality, an explosion devastates the plant. Our narrator wakes from this explosion invisible. “I shut my eyes to gather my wits,” Nick reports. “This produced no change whatever. I could still see everything with perfect clarity, no matter how tightly I squeezed my eyelids shut.”

When help arrives, Halloway discovers that his saviors have plans of their own. “Standing here now,” one of them remarks, “we can hardly begin to conceive of the scientific and medical uses of a totally invisible, complete living human body…We’d be running half the government.” Halloway feels no need to be anybody’s guinea pig. He follows the path of the equally unlikely invisible cat and bolts.

Without his comforting shell of visibility, our narrator discovers he is completely isolated: “I have to be constantly vigilant for any sign of a sudden movement or an illogical change in direction that will turn into some ludicrous collision, or some final grotesque mangling of my unnoticeable form.” Without my apartment, I feel a similar desperate worry that I will be trapped on one side of Los Angeles or another, stranded after my car has shipped or my boxes have been carted away.

Just to be clear, this book isn’t, of course, Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. That book is about real problems. Saint’s invisible man narrates a funny, smart thriller that was turned into a movie in the early ‘nineties. But in my current condition, reading about society’s dark past doesn’t seem nearly as appealing as feeling a deep self-pity for having to give up my easy access to views over the Pacific. Play for me a tiny violin, readers, and wish me luck on the staid other coast.