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TEA by Stacey D’Erasmo

TEA

By Stacey D’Erasmo

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2000
ISBN: 1-56512-243-7
Publisher: Algonquin

An evocative yet somewhat contrived first novel about a young suburban woman dealing with her mother’s suicide and her own lesbianism.

Isabel Gold is a typical '70s suburban teenager: hung up on Joni Mitchell, smoking dope, and desperately trying to escape her middle-classness. As the story opens, Isabel and her mother are inspecting houses in the Philadelphia area; it’s clear that the mother, Cassie, is a bit what they used to call “high strung,” and it will soon be revealed that this is the last house in which she'll live before committing suicide. But while her mother’s demise is at the center of Isabel’s psyche forever more, D'Erasmo doesn't dwell on the circumstances; instead, as in life, Isabel goes on—in this case, to apprentice herself to a theater group, fall in love with a woman, and move to New York City to become a filmmaker. Inevitably, she fears that her lover will leave her; and, just as inevitably, the lover does. Divided into three sections preciously titled "Morning," "Afternoon," and "Evening," D'Erasmo’s narrative has an almost too-perfect arc; her depiction of lesbian life feels pat, familiar, and far too politically correct. That said, D'Erasmo’s strength is her pitch-perfect ear and eye for the era of Isabel’s adolescence: chairs are covered in Indian print bedspreads, people sit in La-Z-Boy recliners watching Carly Simon and James Taylor on TV; radios blast the song “Philadelphia Freedom.” The imagery is equally compelling: two chairs “leaned against the wall like poor people with nothing to do”; a stain “was in the shape of Texas, more or less.”

An intermittently moving debut that tries too hard to be literary. Nonetheless, D'Erasmo is a writer to watch.