APPRENTICE TO THE FLOWER POET Z.

Debra Weinstein, Author . Random $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6155-6

The devil wears tweed in poet Weinstein's funny, catty first novel, a skewering of the university poetry scene. At a thinly veiled NYU, scholarship student and aspiring poet Annabelle Goldsmith becomes the assistant to her literary hero, the flower poet Z. (so called for her sexual poems about flowers). Unsurprisingly, Z. is a terror to work for, demanding "jet black, not midnight black, not shoeshine black" ink for her fountain pen, sending Annabelle to buy gifts for her lover ("silk boxers, a tasteful pattern") and asking her to research "masculine flowers" and design syllabi. Hungry for life experience to turn into poems of her own, Annabelle begins an affair with Harry, a 30-year-old graduate student who asks her to be Nora to his James Joyce and act out erotic scenarios involving gloves and typewriters in a famous dead novelist's abandoned country house. The novel conjures up all the rivalries, politics, scandals and affairs of 1980s academia, but caricaturish characters and Weinstein's almost relentless wittiness make the end result feel a bit contrived. Z.'s rebellious daughter, Claire, whose moods are reflected in her hair, and Z.'s cuckolded husband, Lars, are particularly flat. Smart but clueless Annabelle has pluck going for her, but she may try readers' patience: it takes her nearly the whole book to realize that her "mentor became her tormentor," and even then she's still shocked by Z.'s final act of exploitation. There's much to appreciate in this energetic satire, but it will appeal most to readers who've had a brush with this insular milieu. (Jan. 27)

Forecast: This could become a cult favorite for writing program students, who will enjoy speculating whether Z. has a real-life counterpart.

Reviewed on: 11/17/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
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Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-8129-7094-4
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