Kirkus Star


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After The Bleeding Heart (1980) and ten years to the day after the publication of The Women's Room, French returns with a 672-page, rather heavy-handed soap opera paralleling the lives of a mother and daughter. At 50, Stacey Stevens (nÉe Anastasia Dabrowski) is a well-known New York City photographer, a twice-divorced feminist with three children and a recently-acquired lesbian lover. As her emphysematous mother, Belle, nears death, Anastasia tries to penetrate her longstanding reserve through a series of conversations probing Belle's past. The result is a fairly standard immigrant tale, though long-winded and with what have the feel of self-indulgent autobiographical overtones. Belle (who changed her name from Bella) was the daughter of impoverished Polish immigrants who, single-handedly and with great determination, clawed her way out of the sweatshops, married patient, long-suffering Ed Dabrowski (who changed his name to Stevens), and finally climbed into the cherished middle-class, where she lived out her life unhappily, frigid sexually, unable to relax with or relate to her children, especially Anastasia, her ""sullen unforgiving furious timid prodigy"" of a daughter. Meanwhile, Anastasia, of course, has been trying to fight her way out of the middle-class. After a youthful marriage to a would-be artist who turned out to be a button-down bore, Anastasia transformed a serious hobby into a fulltime career. As Stacey Stevens, photographer for World magazine, she roamed the world, gradually losing her innocence and becoming politically and sexually savvy. Back at home taking care of the kids was second spouse, Toni, a househusband at least a decade before his time (and another in a long line of French's utterly unbelievable male characters). After World folded in 1970, Stacey started a brand-new career as a feminist photographer, despite angry critics who screamed ""why does this woman photograph only women?"" But at novel's close, she is still unable to get Belle truly to open up to her. Engaging in spots (particularly in Stacey's youthful journals), but overlong and sentimentalized in the main, and lacking the strength of a real narrative drive or the life-giving release of humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1987
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster