by Jessica Anya Blau
Harper Perennial – January 2011
337 pages; $14.99
For me a really good book is one that I keep going back to, after I have put it down, because I just want to read ‘a little more.’ This book is one of those reads.
Drinking Closer to Home is the story of the Stein family. Two hippie parents (Buzzy and Louise) who emotionally neglect their children during their childhood years, and their three children; Anna (a coke addicted, sex addicted, free spirit with a penchant for infidelities), Portia (middle child suffering, wallflower, who takes time to find her voice), and Emery (the baby, smart kid, overachiever, who struggles with his sexual identity).
The book begins with the grown children returning to California when Louise suffers a massive heart attack and is hospitalized for treatment. Chapters alternate between 1993 (the time the novel is set in), and the past making for a nice juxtaposition that makes the story fly by, and keeps the reader engrossed in the story. Blau has created colorful and unique characters that each leave their indelible mark on the reader long after the book has been put down.
Blau’s characters often mimic real life, in that they are complicated individuals full of ups and downs – just as we all find ourselves. Her characters tell a story that is often hilarious, eccentric, sad, angry and almost always dysfunctional. Think Sex in the City meets Augusten Burroughs’s Running With Scissors and had a love child.
Consider this scene where young Emery asks his older sister Anna to read him a bedtime story.
“Anna had refused to read Portia’s book,
but stood next to Emery’s bed
and told him the story of syphilis:
its symptoms, how it spreads,
and the very real possibility that
their parents would eventually die from it.”
Or this scene where the family are all sitting around talking after they’ve decided to redo their mother’s studio, as a surprise for when she get out of the hospital, and they share the story of Buzzy’s bris.
“…Portia says. “You did let the rabbi suck you at your bris.” ”
…“Jesus Christ, Portia,” Buzzy moans,
“I didn’t let him do anything. I was eight days old!”
….“Aunt Sylvia told me that the rabbi went down and sucked Dad’s wound.
Then he came up, took more wine, and sucked it again.
You’re only supposed to do it once, but this rabbi did it, like three times.””
While there are many moments of eccentric dysfunction, there are also emotional and poignant moments that touch the reader. Characters grow and find and define themselves as individuals all beautifully captured in Blau’s writing.
Drinking Closer to Home is a story that will not only entertain, but also remain with the reader. Fans of good, albeit irreverent at times, story telling will no doubt enjoy this read.
For more information on Drinking Closer to Home please visit the publisher’s website at: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Drinking-Closer-to-Home-Jessica-Anya-Blau?isbn=9780061984020&HCHP=TB_Drinking+Closer+to+Home