PARADISE FARM by Brenda Webster


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Second-novelist Webster (Sins of the Mothers, 1993) paints an appealing, if not wholly compelling, portrait of the sexual mores, intellectual habits, and bohemian aspirations of an upper-class Jewish family in 1929 New York. With the death of patriarch Eugene, Agnes and her grown children Lara and Johnnie lease the big house to David and his pregnant wife Muriel, two early converts to psychoanalysis who hope to turn the house and expansive grounds into a mental health center for disturbed children. While David and Muriel first focus their efforts on Robin, a young girl hesitating on the brink of autism, their attention gravitates also to Agnes” troubled family, now quartered in the big house’s adjacent cottage. Agnes has begun a slightly sadomasochistic affair with the much younger Walter, a German baron with eyes for American wealth, while Lara, a struggling painter, holds a modern woman’s views and conducts a random love life to prove it, though a childhood affair with her brother has tainted her perception of everything. Then there’s Johnnie, a brilliant engineer who escapes from the world by designing and flying kites on the farm—and who’s deemed crazy because of his obsession with the political instability of Germany. Though his distress at the world’s growing anti-Semitism is well founded, his self-obsessed mother and flapper sister think that his recitations of Mein Kampf do little more than suggest his inability to get along with all concerned. Amid the family’s turbulence, Webster evokes the times these characters live in—the lure of Harlem nightclubs and Florida land speculation, the excitement of the new “talking cure,” and the burgeoning influence of cubism. The story hardly lacks for drama, but an odd emotional restraint seems even so to cauterize the characters in midstep. Engaging, though a certain essential vivacity is missing.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-7914-4099-0
Page count: 250pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


NonfictionTHE LAST GOOD FREUDIAN by Brenda Webster
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FictionSINS OF THE MOTHERS by Brenda Webster
by Brenda Webster