All The Finest Girls BOOK review [Alexandra Styron]

Book Reviews
All The Finest Girls BOOK review [Alexandra Styron]
May 1, 2001, 16:22

ALL THE FINEST GIRLS by Alexandra Styron; Little, Brown, 2001

All the Finest Girls is Alexandra Styron's first novel. The narrative alternates chapters between two time periods, the protagonist Addy's childhood and her present. In the present Addy, who works restoring paintings in New York City, is traveling to St. Clair for the funeral of her nanny Lou, who raised her for several years of her life while her bourgeois mother was off at cocktail parties and pursuing an acting career. When she arrives in St. Clair to stay with Lou's family she discovers that she is unwelcome and struggles to adapt to the family's different culture and way of life for the few days before the funeral. Her voyage becomes the catalyst for her memories of childhood when Lou took care of her (evidently she hadn't visited Lou or thought about her much before she found out she had died), and slowly we begin to understand the complex relationship that existed between them when Addy was a disturbed adolescent. This unveiling becomes the main focus and strongest aspect of the book.

Addy's  bad feelings and childhood stress manifest themselves in the form of Cat, an imaginary feline that physically torments Addy when she is upset. It seems that Styron is trying to come up with an imaginative way to express the angst and terror of an adolescent growing up in a home where parents pay little or no attention to their child, but the conceit comes off as trite and the reader ends up with a confused and vague notion of exactly what the problems are and what emotions are at play.

This is true of many other parts of the book as well. The writing barely describes anything, nothing is played out, it is simply narrated. We are told how Addy is feeling all of the time instead of deciphering from the events at hand. Characters weave in and out of the narrative (especially in the chapters set in the present) with no development and little purpose.

Through her interactions with Lou's family in the present, Addy begins to fill in the pieces of the little she discovered about Lou's life while was her nanny. This is paralleled with her rediscovery and redefinition of her relationship with Lou as a child. The book deals well with how different people can have varied and even conflicting perspectives on a relationship between two people, and how the way we remember or perceive our relationships with those around us can change as we grow older and reflect on them.

At the end of the novel I found myself wondering about the point of Addy's spiritual voyage through her past. I felt like the narrative had taken me nowhere, it had no insights to offer for my having read it. Add this to a string of underdeveloped characters and writing that takes no chances and you end up closing the book and feeling like you have just wasted your time.

-Eric Frost

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