RHINE MAIDENS by Carolyn See
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As in Mothers, Daughters (1977)--but with far more control and force--See pins back Southern California lifestyles by the ears while gnawing a mother/daughter relationship to the bone. The mom here is 63-year-old Grace--""a kind of bad Pekinese in a pants suit,"" an armored tank of humming rage with all guns firing at the ""crap"" of life and all those ""jerks."" And among the jerks Grace numbers her suburban daughter Garnet--who looks (thinks Grace) ""like a tired anchor woman""; who's floundering in her efforts to measure up to motherhood and wifehood (hubby Ian is a status-conscious TV producer); who's resorting to est and self-improvement courses. So, through the novel, in separate confessionals, Grace blasts and Garnet whimpers. Grace recalls her past as a goodtime girl, beautiful and fun-loving, overcoming poverty and the trauma of her mother's death (when Grace was twelve); she recalls those best of days, married to Garnet's father, newsman Fran--the drinking, poker games, and dancing. She also recalls, however, her life after Fran left, taking away the Good Times: there was faithful, soggy-biscuit Allen, who drowned himself when Grace decided to marry ""sowbug grey"" Dick; but Dick, a toper who was marginally ""in off,"" led to life in an oil-town apartment complex (where ""the sun didn't come out for several years""), to the birth of Sandy (now wasted by drugs). So now, closer to the present, Grace works for a do-gooding Judge whose work/study employees gleefully truss her up (she has matched them hate for hate). And Garnet is summoned by neighbors to collect her collapsing mother: she tries to woo Grace by immersing her in some curious rituals of gilded suburbia . . . including a Making-Money-Is-Good-For-You therapy weekend, with ushers dressed as dollar bills. But Grace continues to go her own way--passing up marriage to a classy widower (""I could have it. But God is so fucking mean. I could only have it if I could stand the pain""), discovering the pleasures of Europe on a Rhine journey, remembering Alan . . . weeping at last. And as for Garnet, her latent rage is sprung: she erases Ian, gets her mother off her back, and turns toward her own ""good times."" Wise, cutting, funny portraits of two unstrung women--illusions and pretensions on the rocks, with an undertone of pathos.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1981
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan