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Tea: A Novel Hardcover – January 1, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (January 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565122437
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565122437
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.1 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,563,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Stacey D'Erasmo will be a familiar name to anyone who reads the Village Voice. During the years she worked at that quintessential alternative weekly, her beautiful, trenchant essays were among the paper's real drawing cards. Writing on a wide variety of topics--from the brainlessness of certain "do me" feminists to the arrest of ex-'60s radical Katherine Ann Power--D'Erasmo always managed to distill her response into a few devastating elements, her prose driven by quiet rage and an impatient, electric poetry. Like the political writing of Joan Didion, these have proven to be unforgettable essays that deserve to be collected soon.

All of which brings us to Tea, D'Erasmo's first work of fiction. Essentially a coming-of-age tale, it's divided into three periods in the life of one Isabel Gold--from girlhood through her early 20s. The first section, "Morning," is weakest, full of the familiar tropes of damaged childhood: the beautiful suicidal mother, the passive, clever narrator who keeps staring out the car window. But as the book picks up, D'Erasmo sharpens her focus, and Isabel's world takes on a vibrant particularity and humor. Here, for instance, is a slyly hilarious description of a film project she and her girlfriend are working on:

Their film was experimental; it incorporated all the theories they both knew about film, but, they both felt certain, went beyond those theories.... It didn't have a title yet; they couldn't find the phrase that encompassed, or referenced, all the myriad things their film was. It was political. It was nonlinear. It was diffuse. It made use of film as film.
Passages like this call to mind the early-1990s film Go Fish, which also took place in an East Coast world of smart, gay women just out of college who are settling into an urban subculture and making homes in a city where their desires can be easily expressed and absorbed. Fans of that film's liberal-arts-grad realism will welcome Tea. But readers who have anxiously followed D'Erasmo's work may chafe when coming across details such as Pier 1 rattan chairs, La-Z-Boy recliners, and Hill Street Blues--specifics that can date and sometimes diminish this intermittently powerful work. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

In her wry, sensitive first novel, D'Erasmo, a former editor at the Voice Literary Supplement and Bookforum, charts the crucial moments of young Isabel Gold's coming of age before and after the suicide of her mother. The protagonist and her sister, Jeannie, live with their parents in a Philadelphia suburb. Isabel's father runs a dry-cleaning business and her mother, Cassie, runs off to New York to see musicals or stays home glued to the soaps while drinking whisky from a teacup. As a young girl, Isabel studies the ancient Romans and sees her family life as bits of evidence for future archeologists looking for clues. While Isabel observes her mother's fragile state, the narrative follows Isabel's maturationAher teenage friendship with the blonde sylph, Lottie, and Lottie's boyfriend, Ben; her first love affair with a woman, whom she meets at a community theater; and her wrenching first heartbreak. Isabel's mother's suicide takes place offstage, and D'Erasmo reveals how and when the memories of her mother's life and death insinuate themselves into Isabel's consciousness. Punctuated by moments that are radiantly moving (every year Isabel imagines the gift her mother would give her for her birthday) or hilarious (Isabel's childhood friend, playing Get Smart, calls God on the shoe phone), D'Erasmo's tale eschews labels, politics and generalizations. Hers is an intimate story, suffused with irony, humor and a close, sensuous attention to physical detail. Isabel's world opens up generously, providing the reader with the intimate truths and emotional complexity that make this impressive debut unforgettable. Agent, Jennifer Carlson. 5-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

STACEY D'ERASMO is the author of the novels Tea, a New York Times Notable Book, and A Seahorse Year, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year and a Lambda Literary Award winner. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, and Ploughshares. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction, she is currently an assistant professor of writing at Columbia University. She lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

If you like character analysis and not plot driven books than this is one for you.
There is also hardly any sense of time and this irritated me because I couldn't tell where the story was going.
S. Schell
In the end, this book left me more frustrated and angry over the time I wasted on it.
Michael S. Waren

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By stinkerbelle on February 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was familiar with some of D'Erasmo's writing in the Voice, and so I looked forward to reading Tea. Simply put, this is a terrific novel; it was compulsively readable and struck a perfect balance between detached third-person narration and the at times overwhelming emotions of Isabel, its protagonist. There wasn't an overabundance of attention on the establishment of Isabel's sexual identity, and I liked that D'Erasmo focused instead on other aspects of character development. The book's sharp humor appealed to me, and overall, this was a relatively quick but still satisfying read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By carmelbooks on July 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
At first, "Tea" did not hook me like so many other stories have. I felt that it was vague and stale, D'Erasmo only partially achieving the artistic storyline that was obviously being attempted.
However, by the time I reached the second section, "Afternoon," I could not set the book down. What at first had seemed mundane and ordinary had taken on a new shape. I began to realize that the beauty of D'Erasmo's story was in its simplicity. An unexpected intimacy with Isabel, the main character, had been established, and I was eager to read along, to watch her discover life and loss.
In no way was Isabel perfect. She was confused and idiosyncratic -- an inquistive, introspective, ordinary child who grew to be a resiliant, astute, yet ordinary twenty-something with a passionate will to survive.
The beauty of D'Erasmo's writing comes through the simplicity it conveys, through both form and content. The words are raw, yet powerful.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Burgoine on September 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Having glanced at the other reviews of this book, I'm not surprised at the full range of stars - one to five. To be perfectly honest, I felt much like each and every one of the reviews at different parts of this book. I didn't really know where the book was going, found it wonderfully character-driven instead of plot-driven, got angry at all of the characters, and so on.

The phrase "coming of age" has been beaten to death in the world of book reviews, but I can't think of another way to describe this novel. The sheer damage done to a child when its mother mentions she'd like to die - and later commits suicide, sets this story off on a unique spiral. The daughter, Isabel, grows under the vague shadow of this mother's suicide and with only the ephemeral bits and pieces she remembers of her mother: a love of theatre and movies, tennis, and, obviously, tea.
Isabel seems to try to bring those tiny bits - not enough to make a full picture of her mother - into her life at every major juncture. She imagines what gifts her mother could give her at each birthday, for example. She drifts quite a bit through life, without a whole lot of focus, in a way that can be alternately maddening and sad.

Somehow, this book managed to keep my attention and my empathy, even though I was often quite frustrated with Isabel and most of her friends - most of which are shallow and/or lacking in self-esteem. In part, it was the language - the text in this book is just beautiful.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
How many have fled suburbia for "the big city" in hopes of achieving self-actualization and fulfilling artistic dreams? Once there, they may realize that although they've left family home behind much of the past has journeyed with them.
Such is the case with Isabel Gold, the memorable protagonist of Tea, an impressive first novel by book reviewer and editor Stacey D'Erasmo. Emotionally complex and arrestingly candid, Tea heralds the debut of a writer with a gift for original imagery and perceptive reading of the human heart.
With a nod to middle America in the 1970s Tea opens as a young Isabel accompanies Cassie, her mother, on a house hunting expedition in the country. Cassie is a nurse who once dreamed of being an actress; Mr. Gold owns and operates a dry cleaning business.
A school project, replicating an ancient Roman house, takes much of Isabel's time until April of 1968 when Cassie commits suicide "at the hospital where she worked, locking herself in a supply closet with a vast amount of pills, as if to say: This is the size of my hunger."
Jeannie, the Gold's only other child, is very much unlike Isabel. She loves machinery, going to the dry cleaning store and seeing the dolly, the steamer, the presser "with its thick padded arms." Jeannie collects puppies, stuffed animals. She acquiesces. Isabel tests boundaries, beginning with hours spent at Lottie's house. They slather themselves with a peroxide and baby oil mixture to toast in the sun. Lottie is a leader, "the rule giver." She shoplifts a black bikini for Isabel, and gives Isabel her first lesbian kiss. The third member of their triune is "alternately wired and silent" Ben.
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