Heavy-handed feminism

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 February, 2000, 12:00am

This has all the makings of a fast-paced novel. There is the ex-flower child artist, her rebellious teenage daughter and a man wanted by the FBI. Together they could make for an explosive combination, but the plot becomes bogged down in the trivial and the cloyingly philosophical.

Godiva Blue grew up in suburban Connecticut in the mid-1960s. She rebelled against her parents' middle-class lifestyle, ran off to a commune and conceived her daughter, Dylan, during an anti-war rally. Hank, the father of her child, was nothing more than a three-day affair and she expects nothing from him.

Using the US$20,000 (HK$156,000) she inherits from her father, she moves to the west coast, buys a house, takes a job as a janitor and sets up her artist's studio. Feeling in control of her life and her art, she is content to raise her daughter alone.

Dylan is not as content. She is embarrassed by her mother's eccentricities - Godiva sometimes paints in the nude - and wishes that she would conform. A wanted poster of Hank spurs the 15-year-old into searching for her father.

Despite such offbeat characters, the book is cliched. Liza Nelson is clearly trying to explore motherhood, but she has taken on board too much for a first novel and is too heavy-handed with issues.

The final pages see Godiva and Dylan re-united, but rather than let the moment speak for itself, Nelson spells out the mother's acknowledgement of her daughter's difference.

We are spoon-fed the obvious in its most raw - 'I wanted to take more responsibility for my maternal screwing up'.

This is definitely a woman's novel, but even women would probably be put off by her vitriolic feminism. Annoyed when the married man with whom she is having an affair shows signs of attachment, she describes him as a crab: 'If I could cut off his claw, maybe then I could flush him out of my life.' Nelson has a wonderful turn of phrase at times. She describes the view from an aeroplane as where 'geography loses its harsh edges and becomes only an outline'.

But such gems are too few and far between. Nelson's poetry has been published in journals and perhaps it is there, rather than in fiction, that her talent lies.

Playing Botticelli by Liza Nelson Putnam $240