Sylvie and Bruno

grand central station zodiacLast week, my husband and I spent our first full week in New York, searching for an apartment. For those of you who don’t know, searching for an apartment in New York is not really like searching for an apartment anywhere else, and we spent four days looking at countless 500 square foot, hardwood-floored walk-ups on the Upper East Side, until they all started to blend together into a nightmare of 50 square foot kitchens and impossibly steep stairwells.

We stayed in Midtown, close to where my husband will be working, and after a few days the crowds and the noise and the pace became another headachey blur.

I was discouraged. I was exhausted. I’d started to think that maybe we should have stayed in Raleigh after all. I mean, there we could have bought a house with my husband’s salary, instead of worrying about making rent on a place smaller than we’d lived in when we were both in college.

And then something magical happened.

We’d taken a day off of apartment hunting, and made a trip to the Lower East Side’s famous bookstore, The Strand, on the suggestion of a friend. I was in heaven. The Strand boasts that they have “18 miles of books” – a floor for fiction, a floor for nonfiction, a floor of children’s fiction, and an entire floor dedicated to their amazing rare book room. Making my rounds through the room, I stumbled upon a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno.

My favorite novel in the entire world, one which I lose myself in every single spring, is John Crowley’s Victorianesque (not a word, I know) Little, Big. Seriously, if I could live inside any novel ever, this would be the one I would choose. In Little, Big, Auberon, a young writer, leaves home and makes his way to New York City, where he meets Sylvie, his fairy queen. Sylvie has a little brother named Bruno, and two chapters of Little, Big are named “Sylvie and Bruno” and “Sylvie and Bruno Concluded” after Lewis Carroll’s two famously failed novels of the same name.

Auberon’s New York is a scary, sometimes even post-apocalyptic world, and yet it’s also a world full of magic and adventure, a world of prophetic hobos and secret gated parks, a world where the backwards zodiac watches over subway commuters, where love and loss, light and dark, hold hands. Finding that copy of Sylvie and Bruno felt like a reminder of everything I had come here for, a reminder of the magic waiting beneath the rush.

Of course I took it back to the hotel room with me.

Eventually, we did find an apartment, one with a beautiful marble fireplace and spiral stairs up to the bedroom, only four blocks from Central Park. Today we moved in. It’s different, here. Different from the tiny, rural town I grew up in, different from the magical, sheltered world of Auberon’s childhood. And I think I’m going to like that.


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