WILD FLOWERS by Pamela Redford Russell


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Often seeming more like a marathon family-therapy session than a novel, this is the woe-filled, neurosis-filled saga, 1929-1949, of six daughters wretchedly scarred by their parents' miserable marriage. Father is dreamy, roving dam-builder Clay Calder; mother is crazy Jane. And all the daughters are named for wildflowers. Pre-teen Jasmine is the first to self-destruct: thanks partly to a chance encounter with a weird desert monk, she falls in love with death and poisons herself rather than go with the family to wet, yukky Washington state. Then, back in Jane's native Kansas (where they all go when Clay's career is ended by a crippling accident), things don't go so well for eldest girl Lily: she is impregnated by a married man, marries a widower (to legitimatize the baby), and becomes a religious fanatic. Meanwhile, family beauty Iris runs off with two traveling salesmen--destined to become a Navy-base tramp and a would-be band singer before dying in a car crash. And jolly sister Rose happily weds teen sweetheart Clyde--but their tragically childless marriage is doomed. . . while Poppy, the baby of the family, is becoming mentally stunted by the stifling possessiveness of crazy mother Jane. Which leaves. . . Holly: the only dark-haired sister, hated by her mother, adored by her father, cool and competent but incapable of total commitments or taking-a-chance-on-love. Eventually, then, Holly heads out to California, does modestly well as a Hollywood story editor, falls for writer Paul. . . but can't say yes to marriage. What will it take to cure Holly of her fear-of-feeling? Well, first there'll be the tornado death of those unloving parents back in Kansas. Then there'll be the trauma of poor sister Poppy: raped by a revivalist, she marries a sadist soldier and eventually kills him in Japan--which means that Poppy's wee, parent-less daughter must be rescued from a sadistic grandma. And finally, after ugly accusations by Lily, Holly must confront past memories of possible incest with beloved papa Calder, along with a last-minute heap of over-simplified self-analysis (""She had lived in fear of becoming Mama. It was as simple as that. . .""). Stagey dialogue, overheated prose, and low credibility--but for those who thrive on tales of accumulating mayhem, from suicide to murder to abortion to rape to wife-beating and child-abuse: a generous--and oddly likable--serving.

Pub Date: July 26th, 1982
ISBN: 0595323456
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row