Leave It to Me

Bharati Mukjerjee, Author, Bharati Mukherjee, Author Alfred A. Knopf $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-679-43427-6
A native of India who has lived in Canada and the U.S. for many years, Mukherjee (Jasmine) writes about people who are outsiders in our society. Debbie Di Martino, the narrator of this stunning novel, is outwardly mainstream. She lives with her Italian-American parents in Schenectady, N.Y., but she was adopted, and needs to find her true indentity. After a failed love affair with an Asian entrepreneur in which Debbie discovers an inner streak of violence, she flees to San Francisco, where she knows her ""bio-mom"" lived. Changing her name to Devi, she settles in the seedy environs of Haight-Ashbury among a colony of outcasts and losers, including a psychologically maimed Vietnam vet. Soon, she becomes the lover of wealthy filmmaker Hamilton Cohan and, through him, is drawn into a circle of ex-hippies who have abandoned social protest for making money. Mukherjee is inspired here in connecting the residues of 1960s culture: the self-described idealists who used civil disobedience as a road to selfish excess; the scarred veterans of Vietnam; and, between them, the damaged children of that generation. She's especially adroit in recalling the Berkeley counterculture and capturing its later expression in the alternative lifestyles and self-serving rationales with which ex-hippies defend their current lives. Her most impressive feat, however, is in rendering her self-destructive heroine with brilliant fidelity to the American vernacular. Profane, brash and amoral, Debbie/Devi is not likable, but she is recognizable and true. Her voice is flippant but vulnerable, wired with neediness and burning with desperate anger. Some readers may find their credulity stretched by the novel's final scene of vicious mayhem. The bloodbath that ends the book has been signaled from the beginning, however, and one must credit Mukherjee with an astute, ironic and merciless insight into an aberrant version of the American dream. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/02/1997
Release date: 06/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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