A Teenager's Odyssey by ProQuest


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									                                               On Fiction
                                            By Sarah Harrison Smith

         INCE THE 1980S, when she published the first of her         is a phenomenon in our current condition that makes reading
           four earlier novels, Fernanda Eberstadt has had her       about adolescence especially appealing. At its most base—in
           pen dipped in a particularly upper-class American         the fascination the Twilight vampire series seems to cast on
           zeitgeist. With her new, less tortured Rat (Knopf, 293    middle-aged mothers, for example—it seems to be the titilla-
           pp., $25.95), she seems set on finding a larger audi-     tion of thwarted desire. The Harry Potter books also lure adults,
ence—and maybe a movie deal. In this very enjoyable book             albeit for other reasons: the elbow-nudging delight of J.K.
Eberstadt brings all her established narrative strengths to bear     Rowling’s inventive language, the fun house mirror of the mag-
on a story that is utterly contemporary. She leaves the WASPs        ical world, the glamour of Hogwarts (so much more interesting
behind, and good riddance.                                           than any real boarding school), and the intensity of Harry’s
    Her previous work of fiction, The Furies, was an intense         friendships. Eberstadt resists these clichés and the convention-
and ultimately depressing account of a passionate marriage           al thresholds of coming-of-age fiction. If there is another novel
that went from rapturously happy to bitter and destructive after     similar to hers in subject matter, it would be Esther Freud’s
the birth of a child. It depicted an extreme case of the potential   Hideous Kinky (1992), about two sisters growing up in Moroc-
tensions in a dual-career marriage—over money, childcare,            co with their hippie British mother, but Rat has a lot more spark
sex, and sleep—with deep and painful perception. The ending,         and scope.
as brutal as King Lear’s, took the reader to the quintessence of         Perhaps we are a little like the Victorians, who, fetishizing
parental—in this instance maternal—despair. And like Claire          the innocence of children, used them to access a realm of fan-
Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, The Furies had the feeling          tasy seemingly inaccessible through older, more experienced
of a roman à clef. New Yorkers might in fact have thought they       characters. Eberstadt’s “Rat,” whose real name is the very
knew the characters, or at least been at the same party or col-      proper “Celia,” isn’t exactly innocent, but she is pure of heart;
lege with them before their lives went horribly wrong. (Disclo-      well-intentioned, determined, chaste, judgmental, and funda-
sure: The author and I attended two of the same schools and          mentally free. This is a girl who can get along without money
have worked for two of the same magazines, but despite those         and can finagle herself across international borders by telling a
coincidences have only met in passing.)                              good story. She is never childish; the world is her oyster and
    Rat takes you to less familiar territory; no privileged New      she is obstinate and selfish enough to make her own choices.
Yorkers here. Rather, it spans a few eventful months in the life     That may be what an adult reader, who is probably defined by
of a scrappy 15-year-old girl from an unglamorous coastal town       inescapable circumstances, will find so alien and fascinating
in France who, to protect her adopted brother, leaves their
home, such as it is, in search of her biological English father.     S ARAH H ARRISON S MITH , a longtime contributor to the
Though Rat is not young adu
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