Time is not a match for love. Jennifer Egan’s reading of Lucy’s letters to Alfred, Lucy’s one true love, becomes not only a typical love story between two Brooklynites separated by a world war, but also an insightful tale of social justice, or injustice.
In retelling her daily life through letters and notes, Lucy reveals herself to be a believer in equality. I could see her waving a dismissing hand at prejudiced speak, saying, “live and let live.” While certain neighborhoods held, and still hold, segregation as sacred (as seen in Marc Levinson’s The Box), Lucy believes Minnie, a black female worker, should protest against unfair treatment and she belies their supervisor. She explains to Alfred, “not only does [Minnie] have to fight as a woman, but as a Negro” (25). Her letter to Alfred offers not only daily ins and outs, but also the ideology that they as a couple probably share.
The tone of the letters make difficult comprehending a world where Lucy as a woman would be the subject of discrimination. She’s so sassy! She’s so proud when she explains, “No, I ain’t talking about babies—or even the time. You see, I’m a shipfitter” (24). She also explains to Alfred about her thinking of moving to California, “I feel I have an important job, too” (30). Lucy is “every woman”.
Writing letters is an art form. Egan finds herself embedded in Lucy’s world. I found myself embedded, too. Lucy’s story is one of true love. The loveliest part of her correspondence is her use of footnotes in her letters so that she’s sure Alfred understands the words she’s using. Perhaps that strikes a chord because I’ve recently begun dating a guy. He lives in Brooklyn (go figure). He thinks I’m the smartest person he’s ever met, and his goal is to learn one new word a day, which he claims is easy since I’m spouting out big words that he has never heard.
The move to California was sad. Lucy’s attitude and vernacular exude Brooklyn Navy Yards. That’s the home of her love affair. Brooklyn owns that story as she owns Brooklyn. Even the title of this collection, Brooklyn Was Mine, shows how we take ownership of where we live, wither or not we intend to. Memories become an integral part in experiencing a place. Nostalgia is power.
I hope Lucy and Alfred swam together at the St. George Hotel. I hope I swim with my Bensonhurst boy somewhere, too. Actually, neither of us can do more than a doggie-paddle for a few seconds at a time, so we should probably find a different activity.
Egan, Jennifer. “Reading Lucy.” Brooklyn Was Mine. Eds. Chris Knutsen and Valerie Steiker. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. 21-32. Print.