Radiant Daughter

Patricia Grossman, Author
Patricia Grossman, Northwestern Univ./Tri-Quarterly, $29.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5199-4
Reviewed on: 06/28/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
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Grossman (Brian in Three Seasons) pursues the erratic coming-of-age of the gifted daughter of a family of second-generation Czech immigrants living outside of Chicago. In 1969, 18-year-old Elise Blazek, scholarly and haughty, gets both accepted into Princeton and apprehended for vandalism, revealing a contradictory, troubled nature that confounds her pushy, ambitious mother, Irena. Elise can't wait to get out of her stifling suburban home where she also endures the distracted diffidence of her father, Stepan, a mild-mannered architecture draftsman, and younger cousin, Miloslav, a crack baseball pitcher dealing with his own tragedy. Over the course of 27 years, the novel traces Elise's gradual spiraling into mental illness and Irena's fixed denial: from Elise's decision to study Russian literature, grating her mother's hereditary resentment; her abrupt and unceremonious marriage to her Russian language graduate professor; diagnosis of manic depression manifested by episodes of hearing the voice of poet Anna Akhmatova; to dismissal from her university. Ultimately, Irena rallies around her daughter with a fierce maternal sympathy, offering a fragile closure to this unsentimental story of one family's gossamer dreams. (Aug.)
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