Lissy Jablonski was fifteen during the summer of 1985. That was the summer her father, a soft-spoken, seemingly passionless gynecologist, up and left her mother for a redheaded bank teller. The same summer Lissy and her mother disappeared from their quiet New Hampshire lives to have an adventure of their own amid a cast of unlikely characters, including a Valium-addicted ex-debutante and a suspected mobster. The summer the reliably comforting "girl talks" with her mother began to reveal startling secrets. It was also the summer that Lissy's mother would ever after refer to as "the summer that never happened."
Now an almost-thirty-years-old advertising executive in Manhattan, faced with her father's imminent death and newly pregnant by her married ex-lover, an unmoored Lissy finds herself looking back across the years. Contending with her affections for an old boyfriend and his doomed marriage to a Korean stripper named Kitty Hawk, as well as the tangible legacies of that unmentionable summer with her mother, she realizes that she has become more like her mother than she ever could have imagined.
In her debut novel, acclaimed short-story writer and poet Julianna Baggott has woven a precise, smartly comic, and compassionate tale of discovery and desire. With a lyrical sensibility, Baggott reminds us -- through the witty and unsparingly realistic voice of her narrator, Lissy -- of the pleasures and sorrows that can come from the most unreasonable realities of the heart.
Poet and short story writer Baggott's debut novel is a touching coming-of-age story that delivers more depth than its title might imply. A baby boomer doctor's wife in New Hampshire takes her 15-year-old daughter on a voyage of discovery, then later denies the secrets revealed by calling it "the summer that never happened." Although accustomed to being roused from sleep for her mother's late night "girl talks," Lissy Jablonski is unprepared for what her mother, Dotty, has in mind one summer night in 1985. Lissy's gynecologist father has run off with a young bank teller. When it becomes evident that her husband is not going to return, Dotty counsels Lissy, "Don't cry... he's not your real father," and Lissy begins to discover her mother's tangled past. The two embark on a road trip to Dotty's hometown of Bayonne, N.J., where Lissy learns about her one-eyed, mythically endowed biological father, Anthony Pantuliano; the grandmother she thought was dead; and the choices her mother made that shaped both their lives. On the way to Bayonne, Lissy loses her virginity to Church Fiske, the son of her mother's best friend, wealthy ex-debutante Juniper Fiske. Looking back in 1999 as a 30-year-old, newly pregnant but unmarried advertising exec, Lissy realizes that she is repeating the patterns of her mother's life, as Church asks the same question of Lissy that Anthony asked of Dotty. Baggott's multilayered, psychological tale is told with a deceptively light tone, in scenes shifting from past to present. (Feb. 13) Forecast: Gen-X women and their mothers should find this novel absorbing, despite the occasionally awkwardness of the dual narrative. Appealingly quirky characters will charm readers who remember the '80s and could spark interest for informal book clubs. A 10-city nationwide author tour will help sales; foreign rights have been sold in six countries. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 01, 2002
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Excerpt from Girl Talk by Julianna Baggott
One month before my father died in the fall of 1999, Church Fiske appeared at my door. I hadn't seen him since the summer my father disappeared with a redheaded bank teller from Walpole when I was fifteen, the summer my mother decided to teach me the art of omission, how to tell the perfect lie, or more accurately, how you can choose the truth -- with a little hard work and concentration -- from the assortment of truths life has to offer. But for me to truly appreciate her art, my mother knew she would first have to give me the bare, naked truth so that I could see how she'd altered it. Like a gangster who has to tell his child he doesn't play violin, that the case is used for concealing a semiautomatic, my mother, Dotty Jablonski, spent the summer of my father's disappearance opening violin cases, showing me her guns.
Of course, Church brought a lot of that summer back to me. We had clumsily lost our virginity together in a backyard pool in Bayonne, New Jersey. But I'd been deconstructing and reconstructing that summer ever since it happened and everything that I'd learned about my mother -- her weepy, fish-stained father and drunken, arsonist mother; her first love, Anthony Pantuliano, from the Bayonne Rendering Plant; the convent school where she almost drowned for the love of a polio-stricken nun; and why she married my father, her passive accomplice. And recently it dawned on me, nearly fifteen years later, that I am more like my mother than even my mother, that I have spent my life trying to live out her sordid life, taking on the various leading roles.
When Church showed up, I was living alone in downtown Manhattan in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with a bathroom so small you'd think you were in an airplane. My life was a disaster. I'd just kicked out a newspaper-found roommate -- a Korean stripper, self-named Kitty Hawk. Half the furniture was missing -- her beanbags and futon. There were big blank spots on the walls where she'd hung old movie-star posters -- Bette Davis and James Dean; she was a kind of fucked-up romantic. I was screwed out of half the rent for two months. I was fast approaching thirty and had just found out that I was pregnant, my bathroom shelf filled with pregnancy test sticks, pink and blue lines shining from behind their plastic-covered windows, all pointing out the obvious. I'd sworn off men, having just gone through a breakup with a married one, Peter Kinney -- who still didn't know he was the father.