Precious, self-indulgent first novel.
Jemima Weiss, the precocious daughter of a former model and a gruff sportswriter, is given to whiling away afternoons playing elaborate, improvised games with her older brothers, Ben and Jude, and her fragile younger sister, Harriet, with baby Gus in the background. Ben, Jude, and Jem prefer action figures, but Harriet is the soul of femininity, a budding ballerina who collects stuffed lambies and fluffy chicks. Still, the siblings all get along well enough. Jem likes to tag after her father, a home-loving man who adores single-malt Scotch; and she’s devoted to her mother, a delicate beauty who, for unspecified reasons, must be protected from the harsher aspects of real life, something Jem strives mightily to do. Little disturbs this sheltered childhood, except the crosspatch nun who informs convent-schooled Jemima that the Jews killed Jesus. Though nominally Jewish (her mother is not), Jem is untroubled by this revelation. Life goes on, and it’s back to the banks of an ever-flowing stream of consciousness for the girl who’s dubbed herself Sister Crazy. First-time author Richler obsesses endlessly over her heroine’s toys, books, and favorite TV shows and movies, devoting many pages to lengthy recapitulations of the plots and scenes in films from Ben Hur to A Man and a Woman, plus everything in between. The point (if there is one) seems to be that movies are how Jemima makes sense of the world outside her charmed family circle. Eventually, she grows up enough to acquire a shrink and a taste for single malt herself. (Typically, the label of her favorite brand is described in minute and irritating detail.) She even develops an interesting but, thank goodness, non–life-threatening affliction: fibroid uterine tumors, which she names for her four siblings.
Not nearly as cute as its author might think.