cover image Dreaming:: Hard Luck and Good Times in America

Dreaming:: Hard Luck and Good Times in America

Carolyn See / Author Random House (NY) $23 (343p) ISBN 978-0-6

Award-winning novelist (Golden Days; Making History) and book critic See has a pungent, earthily feminine style that has never been put to better use than in this saga of her clamorous, perpetually inebriated family. Daughter of a hard-drinking, charming show-business hanger-on and an equally hard-drinking hellion of a mother, See also went through two chaotic marriages, countless gallons of tequila and white wine and enough mind-altering substances to knock her sideways for most of a decade before settling down, with two miraculously surviving and equable daughters and her elderly English professor companion, to become the quirkily admirable writer she is today. Her sister Rose, enmeshed for years in a life of petty crime, drug-dealing and appalling men, was not so lucky. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, all seemed somehow to be disappointed at what American (mostly Californian) life had to offer, and retreated into bottles, needles and pills. It all makes for wonderfully lively reading, but See's thesis that this is life for much of America's aspiring underclass doesn't quite ring true (perhaps it's simply that a preponderance of these goofily hope-addicted people wind up in California). And in the midst of all See's hard-headed, courageous and humorous observation, it is jarring to come across a paean to some of the more banal and outre of New Age gurus. What is lacking in the book, despite its many anecdotal pleasures and galloping readability, is any sense of a cultural context to Americans beyond a search for ways to feel better about themselves. (Mar.)