ONION by Kate Braestrup


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This ambitious first novel slices through all the fine layers of modern marriage and motherhood and hits a kind of mushy core--though it's something more than the kitchen comedy that its title suggests. Ellen Elliot, former theological student and practicing feminist, finds herself awash in a sea of unfamiliar--but not unpleasant--feelings after her first baby is born. She has given up her studies to devote her energies to tending the baby, ""Onion"" (his real name is Owen), and also her marriage to Saul, a policeman. But the traditional roles she finds herself playing leave her confused. After all, until recently she was planning to become a famous feminist theologian, and her former roommate and best friend, Leona, is a lesbian who is openly disdainful about the confines of heterosexual marriage. So as Ellen doles out banana slices to her small son, she dreams of other possibilities. In particular, she fantasizes about a romance with a man named Bert Potocka, a physicist whom she has met only once. In Ellen's imagination, their love affair revolves around weighty (and interminable) discussions of theology, philosophy, and physics. Eventually, however, as Ellen's fantasy comes perilously close to materializing, she gleans the truth: it's not romance that's missing in her life. She loves her husband. What she's been needing all along is simply to go back to school. This quick fix diminishes Ellen's story, of course, as does the overly clich‚d character of Leona, who's given to pronouncements like ""Men suck."" Still, Braestrup makes Ellen Eliot an original despite the triteness of her situation. And the characters of Ellen's vague, defensive mother, Maude, and her addled, Spanish-speaking grandmother are gems. They sparkle. This is a book that wants to be more than the sum of its parts. It comes close, but never quite adds up.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking