Knock Knock
by Suzanne McNear

The Permanent Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-579-62286-2.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 01/14/2013

Fiction: Mainstream

When it comes to the 60s and 70s, many of us believe "you just had to be there." Suzanne McNear/March Rivers was there. In this unusual fictional memoir, McNear takes us along on the journey. Her character, March Rivers, definitely marches to a different drummer. Wanting to fit in, yet fascinated by the struggles of her times, she moves determinedly forward, alternatingly suffering through or ignoring the missteps.

McNear's writing style is curt; her sentences tight and packed with a powerful punch. The story is woven mainly through the characters that people it; March's mother, obsessed with the way things should be; Rivers' children, pummeling her heart and creating voices in her head that make her struggle constantly just to get through her days; and at the beginning, her husband Warren, full of whining demands and whimsical ideas.

Throughout it all, March Rivers struggles with inner demons, insanity, the demands and pressures of a "real" life that seems to have no place and no purpose for the woman that she is. She tussles with the right words, the wrong words, no words. Marriage and money fail her, yet her three daughters give impetus to her life, ground her in their needs and desires. Her own longings to write, to be heard, to wend her way through the noisy times in her head, often get in the way of her parenting and her relationships. Her friendships are frequently surreal and balanced tenuously on uncertain foundations. McNear keeps her hands firmly on the story's reins, dishing out small tidbits of insider information to entice the reader further into the maelstrom of March Rivers' life.

Knock Knock was not an easy read. The personality (and family) of March Rivers are regularly displayed in such a way as to cause discomfort and/or confusion for the reader. Yet as the reader moves through this story, it coalesces, and shows not only the frustrations and angst of a generation, but the scuffles and aggravations of a writer, wanting to be heard, yet not sure what words will suit her intentions. Her own nebulous desires battle with the needs of her parents, the happiness of her daughters, and the insecurity she feels as a misplaced divorcee. March Rivers is none of us, and all of us: women who have sought, in decades past, a place, a voice and a purpose. Although an uneasy read, the book is worthy of the effort, for there are "ah-ha" moments, both for the reader and for March Rivers. And that should be one of the great motivations of good literature.

Susan McNear, a former editor and free lance journalist, now devotes herself to writing fiction, poetry and plays. Her essays have been published in The New York Times and Vogue. Like her protagonist, she was born in the Midwest, attended Vassar, had a horrific marriage, was an editor at Playboy, has three daughters, and a friendship with Saul Bellow. For the past fifteen years she's lived in Sag Harbor, New York.

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