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Song of a Specific Time: Diane Josefowicz’s L’Air du Temps (1985)

Jesi Bender

L’Air du Temps (1985)
Diane Josefowicz
Regal House Publishing, March 2024


’Air du Temps (1985), the latest from Diane Josefowicz, is a novella set in the same town as her debut novel Ready, Set, Oh (Flexible Press, 2022) but this work introduces a whole new set of characters. This story revolves around the Zompa family in Maple Bay; stifled housewife Pauline, her grumpy husband Stanley, elderly dog Bixby, younger sister Zenobia, and the protagonist, newly-teenaged Zinnia. This is a work about time, a very specific point in time—1985 as indicated by the title but, also, that interstice that we experience as teenagers, living between childhood and adulthood.

Josefowicz has a unique writing career, one that spans both commercial and academic publishing. She’s published two books on ancient Egypt from Princeton University Press, which explains the intelligence in these pages and why, for what seems ostensibly like a young adult novel, there is such depth and latent meaning (names like Zenobia for example). The real treasure in these pages is how the author is able to capture that feeling of being on the cusp of knowing, understanding some things but knowing enough to know you’re not getting the full picture. Josefowicz deftly accomplishes the difficult task of capturing a genuine teenage voice without cliché. At once, she manages to keep Zinna’s innocence but also instill in her the confusion and eventual sad realizations of adolescence.

The reader comes into Zinna’s world at monumental moment in the Zompa family’s life: a murder has occurred in Maple Bay. Mr. Marfeo is found shot multiple times and Zinna’s father becomes entangled in the mystery since he employed Mr. Marfeo as an accountant. What ensues takes place between the murder and the trial of JT, a charismatic, white-blond man who also happens to work at Mr. Zampo’s store. All of this backdrop seems like L’Air du Temps could be pitched as “Meadow Soprano in the ‘80s” but in reality, the murder, the trial, and all of the questions around who was involved act as a backdrop to a story that is largely about a flawed group of people trying to maintain their family. As the reader witnesses the Zampo family interacting, the struggles and sadnesses are meted out in tangible ways, because each disappointment and sorrow is underscored and made more real by brief moments of happiness.

The triumph in this work is how perfectly Josefowicz is able to capture the distance one feels in childhood, in young adolescence, with the world they are entering. A common symbol throughout this work is the car, large old cars that drive like boats. These “Guinea canoes,” Mercurys and Lincolns, move slowly but, like tanks, become unstoppable. This echoes Zinnia’s journey in adulthood and into understanding. She will continue to move forward, slowly and surely, until she reaches a better understanding of her parents and ultimately herself, as the ride never stops but only continues to reveal secrets as time passes by.


Jesi Bender