Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ALL THE FINEST GIRLS by Alexandra Styron

Alexandra Styron has a new book out about her award-winning father, but I wanted to read her novel instead. As I read it, though, I wondered if how much was truth and how much was fiction. Via intermittent flashbacks, we find that the main character, Addy, now a grown woman, was a wild child whose father was a philosopher/writer and whose mother was an actress/heiress. Neither parent was adept at or interested in parenting, and, if this novel is even faintly autobiographical, it's a scathing indictment of both of them. At the time that Louise arrived from the Caribbean to become Addy's nanny, Addy was the butt of schoolyard jokes about her unkempt appearance and was starved for a little TLC. Fast forward to the present, and Addy arrives on Louise's Caribbean island for Louise's funeral. Here Addy says and does exactly the wrong thing, time and again, managing to offend Louise's bereft family members, just as she had ultimately alienated Louise herself, and thus deepening the funk that she had already sunken into before she arrived on the island. This pilgrimage is sort of a lame and ill-advised attempt on Addy's part to connect with a family with whom she shares virtually nothing. Contrast this cringe-inducing awkwardness with the anger and frustration at her real parents' behavior, and you have a sense of how emotionally damaged Addy is. I suppose her work—restoring paintings—could be construed as therapeutic, but it's rather solitary. She needs a hug, and Louise's two sons, Philip and Derek, whose childhood their mother missed in order to become Addy's caregiver, are not inclined to embrace Addy, physically or emotionally. The irony is that the brothers' lack of mothering is a misfortune that they share with Addy. In order to mend her broken life, Addy will have to ante up some forgiveness, as will Philip and Derek.

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