cover image Celeste Ascending

Celeste Ascending

Kaylie Jones. HarperCollins, $24 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019325-6

In blunt, swift-moving prose, the daughter of James Jones (A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, etc.) chronicles a privileged young woman's coming of age, spinning a mesmerizing if somewhat predictable tale of tangled loves and shattered dreams. Celeste Miller, a 29-year-old writer and teacher of English literature and creative writing at Columbia and a public school in Harlem, is swept off her feet by handsome Alex Laughton, an investment banker who gives her lavish gifts, weekends in Bermuda and some of the security she has always longed for. As Celeste commits to Alex, however, she finds herself ""trying to make peace with those... left behind a long time ago."" Her romance isn't seamless, either, and as the novel smoothly intercuts between 1989 and Celeste's suburban Connecticut youth, ""an intangible sense of impending doom"" tinges the atmosphere. Nearly every person from Celeste's past has brought her grief: her French mother, who distanced herself and her daughter from the rest of the family and died when Celeste was 10; Nathan, a wild, romantic, unreliable lover; Sally, a high school friend who fiercely admonished Celeste to get what she wanted out of life but opted for suicide herself. As people from each phase of Celeste's life are introduced--including Derrence, a promising young poet from the Harlem school, and her ""guardian angel"" college friend, Branko, who drinks too much--Celeste's own consumption of alcohol spins out of control and her relationship with Alex grows more troubled. Thanks to Jones's affinity for her vividly executed characters, the story doesn't turn maudlin or falter in its wide-ranging aims; rather, it moves assuredly to a heartfelt and surprisingly benign conclusion. (Apr.)