Oprah Book Club® Selection, May 1999:
Astrid Magnussen, the teenage narrator of Janet Fitch's engrossing first novel, White Oleander
, has a mother who is as sharp as a new knife. An uncompromising poet, Ingrid despises weakness and self-pity, telling her daughter that they are descendants of Vikings, savages who fought fiercely to survive. And when one of Ingrid's boyfriends abandons her, she illustrates her point, killing the man with the poison of oleander flowers. This leads to a life sentence in prison, leaving Astrid to teach herself the art of survival in a string of Los Angeles foster homes.
As Astrid bumps from trailer park to tract house to Hollywood bungalow, White Oleander uncoils her existential anxieties. "Who was I, really?" she asks. "I was the sole occupant of my mother's totalitarian state, my own personal history rewritten to fit the story she was telling that day. There were so many missing pieces." Fitch adroitly leads Astrid down a path of sorting out her past and identity. In the process, this girl develops a wire-tight inner strength, gains her mother's white-blonde beauty, and achieves some measure of control over their relationship. Even from prison, Ingrid tries to mold her daughter. Foiling her, Astrid learns about tenderness from one foster mother and how to stand up for herself from another. Like the weather in Los Angeles--the winds of the Santa Anas, the scorching heat--Astrid's teenage life is intense. Fitch's novel deftly displays that, and also makes Astrid's life meaningful. --Katherine Anderson
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Thirteen-year-old Astrid Magnussen, the sensitive and heart-wrenching narrator of this impressive debut, is burdened with an impossible mother in Ingrid, a beautiful, gifted poet whose scattered life is governed by an enormous ego. When Ingrid goes to prison for murdering her ex-lover, Astrid enters the Los Angeles foster care program and is placed with a series of brilliantly characterized families. Astrid's first home is with Starr, a born-again former druggie, whose boyfriend, middle-aged Ray, encourages Astrid to paint (Astrid's absent father is an artist) and soon becomes her first lover, but who disappears when Starr's jealousy becomes violent. Astrid finds herself next at the mercy of a new, tyrannical foster mom, Marvel Turlock, who grows wrathful at the girl's envy of a sympathetic next-door prostitute's luxurious life. "Never hope to find people who will understand you," Ingrid archly advises as her daughter's Dickensian descent continues in the household of sadistic Amelia Ramos, where Astrid is reduced to pilfering food from garbage cans. Then she's off to the dream home of childless yuppies Claire and Ron Richards, who shower her with gifts, art lessons and the warmth she's been craving. But this new development piques Ingrid's jealousy, and Astrid, now 17 and a high school senior, falls into the clutches of the entrepreneurial Rena Grushenka. Amid Rena's flea-market wares, Astrid learns to fabricate junk art and blossoms as a sculptor. Meanwhile, Ingrid, poet-in-prison, becomes a feminist icon who now has a chance at freedomAif Astrid will agree to testify untruthfully at the trial. Astrid's difficult choice yields unexpected truths about her hidden past, and propels her already epic story forward, with genuinely surprising and wrenching twists. Fitch is a splendid stylist; her prose is graceful and witty; the dialogue, especially Astrid's distinctive utterances and loopy adages, has a seductive pull. This sensitive exploration of the mother-daughter terrain (sure to be compared to Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here) offers a convincing look at what Adrienne Rich has called "this womanly splitting of self," in a poignant, virtuosic, utterly captivating narrative. Reading group guide; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: An excerpt from the novel was selected as a notable story in Best American Short Stories 1994.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.