Friday, April 25, 2008

A Novel

"The English American: A Novel"
by Alison Larkin
(Simon and Schuster, $24)

Review by Ealish Waddell

Pippa's fanciful, imaginative nature has often put her at odds with her staid, stolid English family, but since Pippa is adopted, this seems to her to be par for the course. Though she enjoyed a happy, privileged childhood and dearly loves her parents and sister, she can't help but wonder whether her more unusual traits and talents stem from some unknown branch of her American family tree.
So in the spring of her 28th year, Pippa decides finally to contact her birth parents, hoping it will somehow bring the peace of mind she has always felt lacking. Reunited with the parents she never knew, Pippa is shocked to see how much she resembles these strangers, and yet peace of mind does not come.
Her mother is warm and welcoming and flamboyant with the artistic temperament Pippa always cherished, but she gradually reveals herself to also be a self-absorbed, emotionally volatile drama queen with a suffocating attachment to her newfound daughter.
With her father, Pippa finds an instant natural rapport, even though his neo-conservative views and shady political involvements are the polar opposite of her own ideals. But his refusal to get past the shame of her illegitimacy builds a wedge between them that can't be ignored.
Confused and exhausted, Pippa draws away from both her old and new lives, retreating to New York City, where new friends and a unexpected performing career beckon her to a world beyond her comfort zone.
Pippa had always expected that she would recognize in her biological parents the ready-made, grown-up versions of the person she was always meant to become. Instead she realizes that her parents, both sets of them, have only planted seeds of both nature and nurture, and that it is up to Pippa to make herself bloom.
In this enjoyable first novel, it's a pleasure to watch her do just that.
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