AMERICAN ROSE by Julia Markus


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The promise--the passion, too--that was folded down so nervously into Markus' compact Uncle (1978) springs up violently in this much longer novel. Yet the similarities between the two books are striking: in telling the story of the Addises, an increasingly wealthy New Jersey-Jewish butcher family, Markus has again (as in Uncle) zeroed in on both a vulnerable but blustery father-figure--second-generation Raymond Addis--and an insecure but gifted young woman: Rose, Raymond's daughter, born in 1940 and destined to be a recognized novelist. Around both these figures, above the whole family, hangs the off-stage presence of Raymond's schizoid, institutionalized sister, also named Rose; and Raymond's devotion to his mother, Etta, is another shackle--a sort Of perpetual tithe paid to ward off genetic chaos (he's the kind of man--hypochondriac, Dutch-uncle--who so much believes in his own failure that success flocks to him perversely). But daughter Rose will dare madness by living an individualist's life, one that sends chills up her father's spine. Out of all this, Markus draws together a remarkably palpable family sense--of sickness, deferred triumphs, talismanic rituals, repressions. The normal limits of relationship come across as gut-true. Unfortunately, however, Markus' style, telegraphic and often wearyingly brass-tacked, presents a constant chafe: ""Let's go back to happier times. In 1920, the children were little, and the money was rolling in. When they were rich, they were no longer poor, and for Etta that was that. Poor people save, rich people spend. And how she spent."" And in a long book, a thousand or more short paragraphs just like this--as well as frequent speedups and flash-backs which are terse and deadpan to the point of archness--soon become an obstacle. Still, there are also pearls here, moments which are heartbreaking in their familial plain-sightedness--and Markus remains an enormously promising talent in search of just the right form.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin