cover image Perfida


Judith Rossner. Nan A. Talese, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48427-5

A sensational murder case has again prompted Rossner (Looking for Mr. Goodbar, etc.) to fictionalize newspaper headlines. Her story of a model high-school student who kills her alcoholic, violently abusive mother in self-defense has intriguing moments, but the psychological underpinnings of the relationship between mother and daughter prove too complex for Rossner's abilities. When she is five years old, narrator Maddy Stern is taken by her restless, amoral mother, Anita, from Hanover, N.H., where her father is a professor at Dartmouth, to Santa Fe, where Anita wholeheartedly enters into the 1970s drug and sex scene. Despite her mother's total neglect and increasingly erratic behavior, Maddy somehow absorbs the rudiments of hygiene and good manners; she willingly takes care of her younger brother, cooks and cleans, and even achieves high marks in school. Because Anita is so monstrously selfish, hurtful and mean, Rosner's attempts to explain why Maddy continues to love her mother never ring true. Maddy's references to Anita's rare moments of kindness, and to their ""closeness,"" seem grafted upon the narrative. Most of the characters here are despicable and lack dimension: Anita and her lovers are boorish, self indulgent hippies; Maddy's father, when she finds him again, is cold and manipulative; the man who gets her pregnant is an unfeeling bully. To her credit, Rossner nicely evokes the atmosphere of Santa Fe during the art boom years, and she captures the self-involved, permissive alternate culture of the '70s with chilling recall. Rights sold in Germany; major ad/promo; author tour. (Oct.)