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.