Friday, January 20, 2012

White Oleander

"White Oleander" (446 pages) by Janet Fitch is a novel I've been meaning to read for quite some time, mostly due to the recommendation from a couple of friends. From Goodreads:

"Astrid is the only child of a single mother, Ingrid, a brillant, obsessed poet who wields her luminous beauty to intimidate and manipulate men. Astrid worships her mother and cherishes their private world full of ritual and mystery - but their idyll is shattered when Astrid's mother falls apart over a lover. Deranged by rejection, Ingrid murders the man, and is sentenced to life in prison.

White Oleander is the unforgettable story of Astrid's journey through a series of foster homes and her efforts to find a place for herself an impossible circumstances. Each home is its own universe, with a new set of laws and lessons to be learned. With determination and humor, Astrid confronts the challenges of loneliness and poverty, and strives to learn who a motherless child in a an indifferent world can become.

Tough, irrepressible, funny, and warm, Astrid is one of the most indelible characters in recent fiction.
White Oleander is an unforgettable story of mothers and daughters, burgeoning sexuality, the redemptive powers of art, and the unstoppable force of the emergent self. Written with exquisite beauty and grace, this is a compelling debut by an author poised to join the ranks of today's most gifted novelists."

I'm a little on the fence about "White Oleander." I gave the book three stars on Goodreads and that was probably being overly generous. While I liked the story for the most part and the characters (and sometimes hated them) I found Astrid's overall journey a little over the top and quite melodramatic. I think so much tragedy for Astrid became a crutch for the writer and bordered on the unbelievable as the novel neared its conclusion. Maybe "White Oleander" is a lot like "Catcher in the Rye." Something powerful to a younger reader that becomes less likable over time with maturity.

There's some good to be found in the story. The overall theme of redemption and forgiveness is nice even with the horrific events throughout book. I really empathized with Claire's character and her moments in the novel and I was truly heartbroken with her outcome. On the other hand I was also disgusted and turned off quite a bit by the blatant pedophilia presented in the first quarter of the story. I can read almost anything but this was tough to swallow for me as a reader.

Overall an interesting story with some really disturbing events. Most likely I wouldn't recommend this book to a discerning reader.

I'd really be interested in the views of anyone out there who has also read this novel.


Brilliantly Blonde said...

It's been a long time since I read the novel (probably 8 years?), and I agree that it's a tad bit dramatic with the gloom and misery. I don't remember the pedophilia being as outrageous as you make it sound, but it's been a long time.

I think you were very generous with the three stars...I probably would have given it 1 1/2.

Now go home and read something worthwhile like The Front Porch Prophet!!!

Dave said...

A 14 year old girl screwing a 54 year old man wasn't an impressive piece of storytelling...