Top positive review
Shaken, not stirred
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on September 15, 2010
Lily King gets this children-of-an-alcoholic-stunted-development thing pretty much spot on. The reader will find her portrait of the father to be a familiar and accurately rendered type: the country club hero sporting a good backhand with a killer tan, hiding an ugly temper and penchant for cruelty when soused, which he is much of the time. His daughter, Daley, our heroine, narrowly escapes with her life, which is the over-arching theme of this book. Her childhood is a sort of pretty hell, where she has no safe harbor in a upscale town known for its snug appeal. Her beloved mother makes an understandable decision to run for their collective lives, which throws her children into a cauldron of confusion and anger. I thought King did a very nice job embodying the inner life of an adolescent girl struggling with her love/hate for her charming but thoroughly rotten father. The characterizations of he and his coarse, tasteless second wife and their circling of the marital drain, were sharply drawn and deliciously repugnant. King is never more effective then when she is giving us the fly on the wall view, where small details of addiction, vignettes and gestural drawings, and also the sour language of the drunken are both devastating and damning. Haven't we met these two before? Somewhere on a veranda, or a boat deck, of a golf club social? The deep end of a pool?
The second part of the book finds Daley as a young woman about to embark on a hard earned, successful career as an academic, with the tender support of her boyfriend, who is black. This crossing of the race-line does not feel coincidental. Daley's father, not surprisingly, is a horrible bigot and chauvinist. Daley's impressive ambition and drive to succeed, her inability to relax and have fun, her choice of a man who is the antithesis of her father, all represent a need to conquer and dispel old hurts, and distance herself from her disgust for her father and her past. The reader shudders when she sabotages the future she so diligently built and richly deserves. When she goes back to her childhood home to rescue her father, we know it won't stick, but we do understand that its her life she is trying to rescue, as much as his. The ending of the book does not deliver the kind of vindication we hope for, but it is believable. Where King may feel she has got a triumphant epiphany out of the old boy, we, the dear reader know this is about the best one could hope for from the sod, and nod our head with grudging approval.
There are a few passages in this book which confused and disturbed me. Dear old Dad has a tendency toward an inappropriately sexualized relationship with his young daughter. He reads pornography to her at the dinner table to elicit a few chuckles, strips himself and her down for a streaking romp in front of a pool full of young children who are forced to spectate, and occasionally makes comments to her about her generally "appealing" body. Daley the child is confused and disturbed, but in Part Two, Daley the adult is too, long after she should have gotten clear about it. For example, as a 30 year old, Dad "dresses her up" in a cute tennis skirt in order to play a game at the club, where he can show her off and use her to deflect some of the club gossip. She is cynical enough to take umbrage, but then finds that she likes wearing the uniform of the rich and protected daughter, and that her game has never been better. Though she remembers being repelled by his casual nudity when she was a child, her favorite memory of him is the day they ran naked together through the yard, because it made her feel so carefree, and made him seem fun and uncomplicated. This sentiment does not seem consistent with a character who insists on the title Ms., even with strangers and who chastises her father for objectifying her.
King also has a way of writing about the human body in unnecessarily lurid ways, and it intruded on an otherwise skillful read. Daley's experience of her childhood friend nursing a child is rather grossly eroticized. And Daley the youngster has a penchant for stumbling into people who are having sex, not once, not twice, but three times!! Quite an education. One hopes that Lily King is trying to say that once a child is exposed(Hah!) to inappropriate sexual contact with adults, there will be no normalizing the subject for even the healthiest of them. But, dear reader, you will have to answer this question for yourself. I am left to wonder if it was just gratuitous voyeurism, or worse, confusion on the part of the author who wants to write about sexuality with honesty, and can't quite nail her point of view down.