At the Sign of the Naked Waiter
Strange things happen to Sarah, interwoven with the most ordinary of life’s experiences in this wonderfully imaginative first novel. Nearing thirteen, Sarah expects some “big thing” to happen to her, and it does: she witnesses a young man undressing next door. Yet it must be her imagination, because naked, he seems to possess two budding wings. The next morning brings spring and her new friend, Robin, who saves her from attack by a trio of demonic little boys, threatening their leader with a pearl-handled pocketknife. Sarah finds Robin “stunning and highly untrustworthy,” but their friendship is inevitable and lasting.
Also important is Sarah’s relationship with her older brother, Fred, a scientist. Although he tormented her when he was younger, and tries to include her in his unorthodox experiments, he proves to be a helpful and admirable companion.
The main focus is on Sarah’s attempts to find love with various boyfriends through high school and college, until she finally marries after seriously revising her expectations of men. Milo is not the companion she dreamed of, and he cannot accept her rich fantasy life, but Sarah accepts him at last. Throughout her search, she must deal with the disintegration of Robin, who drifts into schizophrenia, and never completely returns.
Pregnancy turns Sarah into a worrier, temporarily blocking her fantasy life as she agonizes over damaging the baby with everything from MSG to adrenaline. Her imagination lightly returns with the birth of Jake, whom everyone adores.
Fred’s death from AIDS, too delicately handled by the author, upsets Sarah’s world but allows her to understand and appreciate that tenuous connections may be all that we have, and that ordinary life is rich with beauty and wonder.