Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Woman Without a Country: The English American by Alison Larkin

The English American by Alison Larkin

Pippa Dunn was born to American parents, but adopted by a British family as an infant. Now 28, Pippa has a posh accent, a boarding school education, and uneasy feelings about the differences between herself and her adoptive family. They're tidy and proper and reserved, while Pippa often has some trouble assuming the proverbial "stiff upper lip," and more in assuming a life that could be called tidy or proper.

Despite a loving relationship with her family, Pippa has issues with abandonment and rejection. She dates men she doesn't really like so she won't care if they leave her, and takes jobs she doesn't care about, trying to forget her dream of becoming a playwright.

When the book begins, Pippa's been having dreams about her birth mother, and contacts the adoption agency in the hopes of reuniting with her. Her curiosity and desire to be understood by the woman who's described in the non-identifying adoption file as "well-spoken, lively, highly intelligent" runs her headlong into the infuriating legalities of the U.S. adoption system. Eventually, with the help of a sympathetic private researcher, Pippa is able to contact her birth mother, Billie, a dramatic, creative woman who's every bit as untidy as Pippa.

Immediately, Pippa travels to the United States, and feels an immediate connection to Billie, and later, to her birth father, Walt. She allows herself to become enveloped in their lives, moving in with Billie and taking a job for her "creativity consulting" business. In the U.S., Pippa also begins to rediscover her own creative side, and begins taking the train to New York to perform in a gay bar, where her "British redneck" act is a huge hit.

However, as Pippa learns more about Billie and Walt, their happy reunion becomes cloudier and more complicated. While she'd longed for acceptance and a sense of belonging with them, the further she's drawn into their worlds, the more she loses herself.

While reading the first few chapters, I kept putting The English American aside, thinking it another piece of overly gloopy chick lit -- British singleton, messy personal life, chance for self-discovery, obvious "perfect man" that our heroine is too blind to see, etc.

However, I kept picking it up again, and eventually found myself completely won over and charmed by Larkin's witty writing and shrewd observations about the difference between Yanks and Brits.

Best of all, though, is Larkin's depiction of the relationship between Pippa and her birth parents. Though there are plenty of subtle warning signs early on, Pippa is too excited to notice their flaws or the unreasonable expectations and demands they place upon her until it's nearly too late. As Larkin explores the dark sides of these characters, Pippa's inability to see the reality of the situation never becomes frustrating because it's so believable.

If you like...: fiction about the complexities of adoption like Girls in Trouble by Caroline Leavitt or Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope, or humorous fiction about British expatriates, this book is for you.

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