All the Finest Girls
Alexandra Styron
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Buy *All the Finest Girls* online All the Finest Girls

Alexandra Styron
Little, Brown and Co.
288 pages
June 2001
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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All the Finest Girls is, above all, a novel about the nature of connections between people. Addy Abraham travels to St. Clair in the Carribean to attend the funeral of Lou, the woman who raised her and changed her life. An angry and sullen child, Addy is alienated from her mother, an actress always away on film shoots, and her father, a philosophy professor and rising academic star. She instead channels her unhappy energy into the viscious figure "cat" which awaits her in the dark. When Lou arrive to care for her, Addy's behavior and attitude change, and a deep connection between the two forms.

Curled Up With a Good BookLou's presence in Addy's life, however, is counterbalanced by her absence in the lives of her own children, whom she is forced to part with to support. Addy watches in photographs and letters as the boys grow up without their mother, witnessing Lou's sadness. When Lou is set to leave, Addy reacts in a harsh and startling way, severing their ties to each other.

As Addy, after Lou's death, meets the woman's family, it becomes evident that her connection with Lou was not as binding as she'd imagined. She searches for some evidence of Lou's time spent with her, but finds nothing. What does become evident is a jealousy and animosity toward Addy on the part of Lou's children, who hold her responsible for their mother's absence.

What appears most important in this novel is the question of whether those we love, who have the greatest impact upon us, truly regard us in the same way. While Addy is forever indebted to the woman who played such a pivotal role in her childhood, there are questions regarding Lou's indifference. This issue is answered quite poignantly in a speech by Derek, Lou's son:

"But now I realize it doesn't matter if yah are loved. It's enough to love. Whether yah loved back or not. Yah don't ask why. Yah just do." (247)
The novel ultimately becomes about Addy's own capacity to love, leading eventually to to a reconcilliation with her real mother. The adult Addy, before her experience in St. Clair, is locked tight within herself. She describes her condition:
"In this box, we move ourselves about, and it seems, if you look at us, normal. But that's a trick. We know better. We know better, in the box." (235)
In her job as an art restorer, she is allowed to work without really putting her mark upon anyone, and in ways, uncovers her past very much in the ways she restores works of art, discovering their true nature. The novel itself takes on the feeling of some sort of restoration, returning to Addy what she lost as a child.

The novel also contains questions of race. When in St. Clair, Derek accuses Addy of seeing Lou as her "black mother", as always beneath her. And indeed, at her moment of greatest anger toward Lou, she shouts a racial slur that sends reverberations througout the entire narrative. These tensions are apparent both in St. Clair, and during her childhood in Connecticut.

Styron weaves all of these threads together effortlessly. What is most stunning about this novel, however, is its prose--gorgeous dizzying sentences that echo throughout the novel. When Addy discovers her father having an affair, Styron writes:

"This. This voice cuts through the hollow in my brain. Sticks like a knife in my nothingness, my zero." (154)
Styron also employs an excellent rendition of St. Clair dialogue that reads with a certain musicality. Each character is carefully drawn in detail, from Addy's distant parents, to Lou's sullen son Derek. The story is carefully wrought and haunting -- a wonderful and rare achievement in a first novel.

© 2001 by Kristy Bowen for Curled Up With a Good Book

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