Short-story author Eldridge (Unkempt, 2005) gives distinctive voice to six very different characters in her challenging debut novel.
Joyce is a curator whose abrasive personality is a perfect match for her provocative art shows. Elegant, beautiful Bobbie, her first-year roommate at Barnard, is now a gynecologist and still Joyce’s best friend. Bobbie’s patient Lisa, Joyce’s aggrieved ex-assistant, is adjusting to life as a banker’s wife, mother and reformed bad girl. Lisa’s sister Lynne is her temperamental opposite. Lynne’s teenage daughter Jordan, who has always been fascinated by her aunt’s wild ways, is now in trouble herself. Then there’s Adela, Bobbie’s adopted daughter and Joyce’s goddaughter, a young woman whose close relationship with her mother might not survive a big revelation. Each character has a story to tell, and it’s not entirely easy to keep track of these intersecting first-person narratives. Eldridge does not use any typological signs to designate dialogue, and she employs an elliptical style that forces the reader to approach each woman’s story from the outside. It takes a while to fully grasp the various overlapping conflicts that compel the plot, but readers willing to do the work will be rewarded with a rich, emotionally and intellectually engaging experience. Eldridge’s craft enhances the verisimilitude—quotation marks and long passages of exposition tend not to occur in real life—and there’s something exciting about a book that combines technical daring with concerns generally relegated to the nongenre known as “women’s fiction.” The author takes her characters seriously, she takes her work seriously, and she takes her audience seriously too.
Brave and accomplished.