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Kathleen Tessaro: Innocence


Crescent Blues Book Views William Morrow Books (Hardcover), ISBN 0060522267

Book: kathleen tessaro, innocence
Much as I loved Kathleen Tessaro's Elegance, after finishing her latest book I could think of only one way to open this review. If I ever, ever read another novel about a self-absorbed thirty-something woman who wakes up one day, single, damaged and wondering what she did with her life, I'll rip off my own fingernails with a pair of pliers.

For those of you with a keener appetite for the above, some of the novel's more interesting supporting cast might just redeem the whole; a drugged-up but incredibly sexy rock star, an equally sexy Polish classical pianist, a once-wealthy widow who now runs a bohemian household for artistic types and receives regular visitations from her long-deceased husband, a filthy opera diva and a troupe of idealistic drama students, each struggling with her own parental and romantic baggage. Foremost among them, Evie Garlick relocates from small-town Ohio to 1980s' London, to make her fortune as a siren of stage and screen. Together with turbulent Robbie and sheltered Imogene, Evie does very little acting and a lot of smoking, drinking etc, all of which lead her to abandon her sweet, safe boyfriend, her family and all hope of stardom for motherhood and an unfulfilling teaching job, to support her beloved son Alex.

Innocence flits between narratives of Evie's past and present; the identity of Alex's father remains shrouded until late in the novel. Robbie's ghost flits into Evie's present to dispense advice and make startling revelations about their shared past (which encompasses a brief but shamelessly sensationalist Sapphic moment). Yet despite being told repeatedly how unconventional and vibrant Robbie is, both she and Evie soon begin to grate.

Plagued by chronic indecision, insecurity and self-pity, Evie finds herself torn two men; a generous, gifted child-friendly man quietly but passionately in love with her and a self-destructive but irresistible firebrand, neatly fitting the limp Bridget Jones/Ally McBeal stereotype. Predictably, after much agonizing and soul-searching Evie makes her choice, makes her peace and finds her vocation at long last -- all in typical chick-lit fashion. Most disappointing of all, she ditches the hideous teaching job and her oddball collection of pupils for a blandly glamorous life in New York and a gorgeous husband. Although I'm a sucker for a happy ending, after all the agony, could Evie's loose ends realistically tie so neatly?

In spite of its faults, Innocence echoes its predecessor in evocative, lively descriptions of the highs and lows (notably a pie-throwing performance of King Lear) of theatrical life -- often epitomized the irrepressible Bunny Gold. Tessaro is, as ever, at her best when detailing the utter humiliation of her American heroines as they crash headlong into the various quirks of English culture. Part romance, part coming of age saga, part supernatural fiction; Innocence shows plenty of promise but proves ultimately forgettable.

Maysa M. Hattab

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