Despite the fact that I have hundreds of pages of pretty dry school-related reading to do each week, I did manage to find time to read some actual fiction that was worth talking about. Or blogging about.

Daughters of Jerusalem(btw, I tried to link to Powell’s here, but it’s out of stock at that lovely, unionized online bookstore) by Charlotte Mendelson was one of those rare finds, a guilty pleasure book that turned out to have style and substance by the ton. I have to admit that I picked this up because it has a lesbian story line, but I was both surprised and relieved to find that that storyline is only one of many utterly compelling threads running through this book. Yeah, there’s that word surprise again. You’ll see it again and again in this rec, because I’m so rarely surprised anymore.

It’s the story, told from shifting points of view (daughter to father to mother) of a ‘normal’ family (and by normal I mean absolutely and completely dysfunctional) that is falling apart. It begins with an amazing line — A children’s tea party in the land that style forgot. — and the older daughter, Eve’s, POV. The land that style forgot, is Oxford. Eve’s father is a professor (but not a tenured one) at the university and Eve and her younger sister Phoebe struggle mightily for his and their mother’s attention.

One of the things that I loved about this book, beyond the impeccable and sometimes absolutely breathtaking prose, was the way it allowed the reader to uncover facts about the characters through the observations of other characters. Nothing is hand-fed to the reader. Nothing is easy. And as the relatively short snippets of character voice that we get seem to speed up and gain momentum heading toward what looks to be a profound and tragic collision, I found myself growing physically and emotionally distraught. Its hooks are that deep. Part of that is the style, but it’s also Mendehlson’s incredible characterization. The kids are ruthless and clueless. The adults are sad and so self-centered, so completely caught up in all of the crap that adults are caught up in (petty jealousies, affairs, and the struggles for prestige and attention at work and at home) that they are essentially absent. I’m tired of parents in short stories and novels who seem to be some sort of idealized mommy and/or daddy. They’re mary sues (or should I say, Mommy Sues?) and they seem to be everywhere in prose, TV and film. Give us a break already!

The end was not the violent explosion I literally sweated over, but it was the right ending. The real one. And of course, there were things about it that I would have liked to see handled differently (particularly Phoebe whose amoral behavior I found fascinating), but I liked it enough to write this longass rec for it, so there.