Mother love is a bitchy, twisted thing in Seattle poet Blauner’s debut novel, as it awakens in two daughters all the defensive mechanisms they can muster, especially after Daddy—himself a piece of work—quits the scene. New York model Isabelle spends her time preparing her body for runway walks and assignations, with nary a care for the well-being of her girls, Lizzie and Claire. Eventually, the friction between her and chain-smoking clothing-store owner Stan, her husband, wears away whatever feeling she had for him, and she tosses him aside like last year’s designer dress. Lizzie, the firstborn, suffers her mother’s questions about her sex life first, while watching a seemingly endless parade of male visitors to Isabelle’s bedroom over the years. She finally escapes to college and then to a writing program in Montana, where she hooks up with a cook/gambler and begins her own marital misery. Husbands Two, Three, and Four come and go in her mother’s life, and second daughter Claire grows up watchful and withdrawn, so desperate for attention that when she too makes her escape to college, she grabs the first lout she comes across. After a decade she manages to shed him in Florida as Lizzie has her gambling man (and moved to Seattle); from their safe distances the two sisters commiserate as Stan reaches the end of his run and their mother—the Energizer Bunny in stiletto heels—just keeps on going.
Lyrical language applied to so much unleavened gloom and perversity accomplishes only so much: it’s not enough.