By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept | Book review

Like Aphrodite effortlessly seducing a man into her arms, Elizabeth Smart took me in her arms and led me between her warm, inviting pages. I licked my lips and turned the page

Poetic prose. Rich in symbolism and mythological references, drawing from the past to feel the future. Everything that happened in real life takes a fictitious glow and is turned into a finely crafted poem.

What is Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and is it quite as dramatic as its title? She was hopelessly and helplessly in love with a writer. She fell for his words and then let herself be blinded by them. He was married and not nearly as worthy of her love as she thought. Isn’t it a story that sounds way too real even if it’s prettily wrapped up in fiction?

But if you do me the wrong of thinking I am beautiful, that I have a million rescuers from despair; and therefore I can take calamity better than anyone else, remember, truly, it is only you who bestow even these gifts upon me.

Smart’s writing is exquisite and a fine example of 20th century poetic prose. A poem for the soul, rhymeless and so timeless. Beautiful and heartbreaking, it will speak to the most sacred version of you; to the feelings you are hiding or you have forgotten, to the ones you live in now and the ones yet to come. As impossible as her love sounds, as prosecuted and unattainable as it is, it is love as we know it, devoid of sugary sentiments and pop song toppings. This is what makes this book so shattering – it not only describes, but it is heartbreak as we know it and love as we feel it.

Think of a rainy autumnal day walking down the streets with no umbrella and shoes soaked in water. It’s beautiful if not that comfortable.

The key to understanding the book is in knowing the backstory. Read into the true events that not only inspired it, but suffered for it. If it’s true that best writing happens when based on a writer’s very true experiences, then this is it in a nutshell.

But also, the real life story hindering behind the pages makes By Grand Central Station all the darker. What is already described as forbidden love between a young attractive woman and a married man (cliches truly are based on reality and this one thankfully escapes the usual pitfalls of the familiar trope), turns out to be even more heartbreaking than originally described. 

Where do I begin?  He fathered numerous children with a number of women, including her. After divorcing his first wife, he went on and married another woman…not her, of course, even though he was still dragging on the relationship with our heroine for years. A hero he is not. He was abusive and not deserving of this blind adoration. Yet, he makes for the perfect romantic interest, the one that makes good literature great, for one simple reason. He is recognisable. 

Not only because he obviously existed in real life as a breathing, feeling man. But also, and most of all, because he is the man you recognise from somewhere in your own life. He is a symbol and this is something vital for poetic prose.

There have been men who have been more remembered than nations, and nations of men have been willing to die for a word.

Then my word or your word?

Of course, the whole book is full of symbolism; every sentence is drenched in sophisticated references that might lose some readers and will entice others. 

To me, these almost endless name-droppings of mythological characters, were alcoholic. 

Loved it. 

Poured some gin on it and had it with no ice.

It had to be warm. The warmth between her legs, gently spread throughout her pages. And they were also soaked in tears. Just as warm and wet, just as inviting, just as asking for more. Because if you keep returning to this man, you are ultimately asking for more tears. 

And you don’t mind as this is a price that really pales in comparison to the sweet love you are craving. The one you are already giving from the entirety of your body. And if he refuses it, at least we’ve got it all out on those pages. 

And we can take and take and take more of it.

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is best enjoyed …