Wednesday, December 14, 2005

White Oleander

Just finished reading "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch. This book boasts some fabulous opening lines, and the writing just drew me in like magic. It's a story narrated by a young girl over a six-year period in her life, the crucial years between twelve and eighteen, which she spends in a series of foster homes. The story is woven around the relationship between Astrid and her mother Ingrid, a gifted but temperamental poet who is sent to prison.
While the writing is luminous and dreamy, what seems to be lacking is stronger characterization. What does Astrid feel toward the other kids in the foster homes? When does her relationship with her mother take on new hues? Astrid's life is almost reduced to a series of episodes in foster homes, each more heartbreaking than the last. Still, the book doesn't come off as depressing, but you end up not fully knowing any character.
Ingrid, though, is hauntingly etched. From her stauesque Nordic looks to her acid-dipped tongue, her natural inclination towards beauty and intellect, she remains just beyond the realm of your comprehension, but that is the way of this character. After all, you would remember someone who says things like, "love- that semantic rat's nest."
The book has some truly great lines. "...her aquamarine eyes pale behind her tanned face, like a crime in a lit room behind curtains." "I have been cut free, I move among centuries."
Sometimes, with writing like this, the story itself becomes less important than the way it is told, the words. "White Oleander" is a book I'm glad to own- there are many sections you can go back to and read over again.

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