GENRES: Coming of Age, Literary Fiction
“She understands suddenly that the stuff that fills her up is not the love or attention she might get from other people; it is the love she herself has for other people.”
“Marriage isn’t a charming little tête–à–tête between a couple in love. It’s an arrangement in a tiny unified county of two citizen, with a constitution that is in constant negotiation.”
In Drinking Closer to Home, Jessica Anya Blau shows us that dysfunction we get from our parents are only their reactions to the dysfunction they got from their parents. I enjoyed this book, if only because it made me feel like the dysfunction I inherited from my parents isn’t nearly as bad as what Buzzy and Louise passed down to their children.
Anna, Portia and Emery are the adult children of Buzzy and Louise who descend on their Santa Barbara ranch when Louise suffers a massive heart attack. The spend the time reminiscing, remember the hurts and triumphs of their lives, from childhood to the near-past.
The family starts off as a upper-middle class family in Ann Arbor, Michigan, living in the kind of neighborhood that is so normal it has to be abnormal behind closed doors. And it is, although Buzzy and Louise seem to be the most normal–at least at that time.
The family packs up and moves across the country for Buzzy’s career, landing in California. They move into a picture perfect house with a pool and a lemon orchard. All is wonderful until the moment Louise “quits” as a mom. She quits cleaning, cooking, doing laundry and caring for the children, including baby Emery, whose care she entrusts to Portia. All the children grow up dirty–I think this is what got me the most. Louise begins ‘etching’ and writing poetry, and Buzzy cultivates marijuana, something he takes great pride in but doesn’t smoke. He leaves that to Louise.
I think this is where the book lost my heart. I did not like Louise very much until she is much older. She lives in a completely self-centered world, dropping motherhood like it was an adult education class. Those of us that are mothers may drop responsibilities for a day or two, but could never abandon my children to themselves to indulge my whims. And Buzzy lets it happen. It seems with the money he makes he could hire a nanny/housekeeper, but he just leaves the kids to fend for themselves. And Emery grows up without a mother or a father.
We meet Buzzy’s parents, an Orthodox Jewish family who comes to California once a year. They love the girls and Louise (who converted for the marriage and was Sarah for awhile and is the best Kosher cook they know), and really cannot stand poor Emery. This is the only time the house is orderly and clean, an act put on purely for Zeyde and Bubbe.
We also meet Louise’s parents, a couple that lives in bucolic Vermont (I love the vision of their house). They are portrayed as completely backasswards, but you kind of like them for it. Otto, Louise’s dad, believes that all children born after the first are only backups in case something happens to the oldest, so all the love and affection is poured into the oldest. Anna is adored, Portia is tolerated and Emery is ignored.
As we go through the children’s lives and arrive at their adult selves, we realize that the more attention the children got from their parents and grandparents the more screwed up they are. Anna is really a mess, Portia less so (really desperate for love and attention, but in a healthy? way) and Emery is the most stable (probably because he never had any attention or any need of it, he embraced his homosexuality and made it fit into his life in a time when it wasn’t quite as acceptable).
I guess if Buzzy and especially Louise were checked though out, they all would have been a little more functional.
That said, the ending is very poignant and did make me laugh and tear up. They are a family and come together when necessary, although PLEASE tell me I haven’t messed up my kids this bad.
The characters are well developed and you do care about them. They reminisce with humor and emotion. Again, I liked this book. I just couldn’t get past Louise’s total lack of motherly feelings–and this brought the book down a notch.
I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it. Especially at $1.99 for my Kindle!