Reading a novelist's diary can be an uneasy task: How much of it is based in truth? In "The Folded Clock: A Diary," Heidi Julavits presents the reader with a collection that seems less like a diary and more like a collection of very short essays linked by time, place and personal events in an order that is not chronological — which is what a reader usually expects when reading a diary — but more like a carefully planned train of thought.
Each entry begins "Today I," which may initially seem repetitive but ends up providing a comforting thread through the book. "Today my husband and I decided to rearrange our furniture" is a short piece to which many cohabiting couples can relate. The opening line, "Today I met for coffee a friend who, a few years ago, told me the most perplexing lie," brings an expectation of a deeper, more psychological piece that may (or may not) have a surprise ending.
Julavits does not go the route of the confessional that is popular these days; instead, she slyly reveals anecdotes and reminiscences from which her personality can be gleaned. In "Today I am not going to a yard sale," she writes about the yard sale where she bought an iron bed in a manner that her friends deemed "cutthroat" but that Julavits saw as a way to maintain her self-respect.
Julavits lives with her family in New York City and Maine, and there are many entries about the inner workings of the small Maine town where she grew up and where she now spends summers. She has a native's eye for the small, sometimes indiscernible quirks that define local behavior. "Hollywood … is an industry consisting of projects — defined similarly to the way Mainers define projects. Passionate enthusiasm and commitment is expressed in the name of negligible results."
These entries are polished. There is none of the sloppy, ripped-from-the-handwritten-pages oversentimentalism that can sometimes define a diary. "The Folded Clock" is a diary written for an audience, or at least curated for one.
"In the gloaming, there is slippage," writes Julavits, and the same is true for "The Folded Clock." There is glorious slippage, just enough to see its author in the various stages of her life, adhering to the truth as she sees it.
Meganne Fabrega is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She lives in New Hampshire.