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October 04, 1987|Maurya Simon

DRY YOUR SMILE by Robin Morgan (Doubleday & Co. Inc.: $18.95; 395 pp.). This first novel by well-known feminist writer and activist Robin Morgan chronicles the coming of age of child celebrity Julian Travis. Driven to escape her stage mother's neurotic demands, Julian rushes into an early marriage to fellow activist-sculptor Laurence Millman. Though the union survives both the tumultuous '60s and the expansive '70s, it begins, finally, to erode as the couple reach mid-life in the '80s.

As Julian's marriage disintegrates, so does her mother's health. In an apparent attempt to take refuge from impending personal tragedy, Julian turns for comfort to Argentine expatriate Illiana de Costa. Though short-lived, their affair allows the heroine a timely, convenient reprieve from several dilemmas.

Sadly, this well-intentioned book suffers from an array of maladies, from a lackluster style to disconcerting failures in plot. The author fails to fully delineate her characters, so that the "Vampire Mother" appears pitiable rather than monstrous, and the dependent husband seems merely a cardboard paste-up of a stereotype. Instead of offering the reader insights into these people, Morgan presents each as a mirror held up to reflect various aspects of Julian's image. Thus, while others' complexities are oversimplified and trivialized, Julian herself collapses under the weight of unswerving self-involvement and solipsism.

Most disappointing of all, however, is that important questions--such as how a radical feminist accommodates changing professional demands and personal identities--are rarely addressed adequately, or else are seriously undermined by the use of belabored cliches, and a too self-conscious nearsightedness.

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