HALF A LIFE by Jill Ciment

HALF A LIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A bare-bones narrative of a brash girl growing up in Los Angeles in the turbulent 1960s, determined to overcome her father's painful neglect. Novelist Ciment (The Law of Falling Bodies, 1993) looks back on her adolescence without pity and without judgment. She recounts years spent breaking into cars and houses, shoplifting, forging, and cutting school in a dry, deadpan tone that suits L.A.'s desert atmosphere. She, her mother, and her three brothers eke out a precarious living when her mother forces her emotionally and financially stingy father to leave. This bad girl who can barely spell has only one real interest--art. Despite a 30-year age difference, she becomes infatuated with Arnold, her married art teacher. (Curiously, Ciment never comments on the possibility that she may be searching for a father figure.) Seventeen in 1970, and desperate to escape L.A., Ciment scrapes up money to move to New York City. After posing nude at a sleazy ``modeling agency,'' she is overwhelmed by loneliness that sends her reeling back home, where she and Arnold consummate their affair and start living together. She gets into art school on the strength of her portfolio and a friend's willingness to take the SAT for her. Flash forward to 1986: Ciment (now a writer) and Arnold are living in New York when she receives a letter from her father--his first overture in years. The two guardedly reconcile, and she visits him in the hospital. When he dies soon after, she seems to grieve, not for him, but for what might have been, had he been a better father. This flawed but compelling memoir lacks a deeper level of introspection and a fuller sense of the Ciment family, but the author is a triumphantly self-made woman and her book gives us the agony--and intermittent joy--of the process in tough, spare, convincing language. (Author tour)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-517-70171-5
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996




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