Titel: Tea: A Novel
Verlag: Algonquin Books 2000-01-01, US
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On a spring day in 1968, eight-year-old Isabel Gold sets out tea, just so, for her unpredictable, ever-moody mother, and sits down to wait, certain that this will do it: her mother will drink the tea Isabel has made and recover from her mysterious sadness.
But the tea goes untouched. Isabel's mother remains out of reach, a kind of melancholy stranger Isabel struggles to understand.
Then, her mother kills herself.
As Isabel comes of age, that incomprehensible act haunts her. Isabel grows up, yearns to become an actress, and falls in and out of love: at eight, with born-again Ann, who proclaims happily, "I love Jesus"; at sixteen, listening to Joni Mitchell records and smoking dope with Lottie, who "never apologizes and never explains"; at seventeen, with theatrical feminist Rebecca; and at twenty-two, with avant-garde Thea, in whose experimental film Isabel is starring-or trying to-as the goddess Diana.
Of all the women in her life, however, the one who still eludes her is herself.
Funny, poignant, and sexy, Tea speaks to those who grew up listening to the Monkees and Peter Frampton, culling marijuana seeds on album covers, but who fled the suburbs for the glamorous squalor of the city. It speaks to those who discovered they were gay and had to find a way to tell the rest of the world. And it speaks to anyone who has struggled to carve out a space for themselves against a tragic family history.Review:
Stacey D'Erasmo will be a familiar name to anyone who reads the Village Voice. During the years she worked at that quintessential alternative weekly, her beautiful, trenchant essays were among the paper's real drawing cards. Writing on a wide variety of topics--from the brainlessness of certain "do me" feminists to the arrest of ex-'60s radical Katherine Ann Power--D'Erasmo always managed to distill her response into a few devastating elements, her prose driven by quiet rage and an impatient, electric poetry. Like the political writing of Joan Didion, these have proven to be unforgettable essays that deserve to be collected soon.
All of which brings us to Tea, D'Erasmo's first work of fiction. Essentially a coming-of-age tale, it's divided into three periods in the life of one Isabel Gold--from girlhood through her early 20s. The first section, "Morning," is weakest, full of the familiar tropes of damaged childhood: the beautiful suicidal mother, the passive, clever narrator who keeps staring out the car window. But as the book picks up, D'Erasmo sharpens her focus, and Isabel's world takes on a vibrant particularity and humor. Here, for instance, is a slyly hilarious description of a film project she and her girlfriend are working on:
Their film was experimental; it incorporated all the theories they both knew about film, but, they both felt certain, went beyond those theories.... It didn't have a title yet; they couldn't find the phrase that encompassed, or referenced, all the myriad things their film was. It was political. It was nonlinear. It was diffuse. It made use of film as film.Passages like this call to mind the early-1990s film Go Fish, which also took place in an East Coast world of smart, gay women just out of college who are settling into an urban subculture and making homes in a city where their desires can be easily expressed and absorbed. Fans of that film's liberal-arts-grad realism will welcome Tea. But readers who have anxiously followed D'Erasmo's work may chafe when coming across details such as Pier 1 rattan chairs, La-Z-Boy recliners, and Hill Street Blues--specifics that can date and sometimes diminish this intermittently powerful work. --Emily White
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