LEAVING ALVA by Victoria Lipman


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 A muddled debut novel, on the trials and tribulations of self-exploration, that fails to ignite the reader's sympathy for its wooden protagonist. Thirty-year-old Chloe begins her story by leaving Alva. She admits there's nothing really wrong with her husband (except that he stares at her too much), though she can no longer bear the monotony of their less-than-romantic routine. Taking a suitcase, a knapsack, and a thousand dollars in cash, she buys a one-way bus ticket to Arizona, hoping the desert sun will brighten her life. On board she meets Zena, an energetic free spirit who attempts to alter Chloe's diminished self-perception. Spontaneous Zena invites Chloe to stay with her beloved Aunt Ethel, whom she's visiting in Phoenix. Aunt Ethel welcomes Chloe into her home, intrigued by her status as an outcast (Ethel herself is a bit of a misfit, being dangerously obese). Still, all this love and affection do little to brighten Chloe's dour temperament; the scars of the past, it seems, have cut too deep. In flashback chapters, Chloe relates her lonely childhood: her mother leaving, her brother and sister being put up for adoption, her father dragging her around the country from one job to another, ultimately leaving her with an aunt. Haunted by these memories, Chloe hits the road again, this time hitchhiking to Los Angeles. Though her motivation for this (and most everything else in her narrative) is unclear, she feels restored enough by the uneventful experience to return permanently to Ethel, who happily plays the role of mother/therapist. Meanwhile, the narrator's shadowy objectives and even more puzzling behavior (a grown woman with a thousand dollars behaving like a dull-witted teenage runaway?) make for such a seemingly aimless story that the reader longs to travel back to New York City with Zena, who promises a much more compelling life. An unappealing protagonist and uncertain motives add up to a disappointing debut.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-83415-4
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998