Paradise Farm

Paradise Farm

by Brenda Webster
     
 

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Set in 1929, before the Crash, Paradise Farm probes the disintegration and rebirth of a wealthy Jewish family at a time when the New York art world was in ferment, women's roles were changing, the psychoanalytic movement was burgeoning - and Hitler's menace was recognized only by a prescient few. See more details below

Overview

Set in 1929, before the Crash, Paradise Farm probes the disintegration and rebirth of a wealthy Jewish family at a time when the New York art world was in ferment, women's roles were changing, the psychoanalytic movement was burgeoning - and Hitler's menace was recognized only by a prescient few.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the spring of 1929, just before the stock market crash, a young woman struggles to achieve independence from a well-to-do, assimilated Jewish family whose neurotic needs have tremendous psychic impact. Webster (Sins of the Mothers) crafts a coming-of-age tale exploring the psychological underpinnings of a family's dramatic life changes in a historically portentous moment. While Germany slouches toward the Third Reich and the bottom falls out of the U. S. economy, the Kameners face a critical metamorphosis of their own. Eugene, husband of Agnes and father of their two grown children, Lara and Johnnie, is dying and has arranged for his family to move into the small guest house and rent out their opulent New Jersey home to Muriel and David, a pair of psychologists who plan to transform it into a clinic for disturbed children. The uneasy new household, soon minus Eugene and now including Robin, a little girl who's been mute for a year, gingerly forges new interdependencies headed for destruction, or enlightenment. Lara Kamener, a painter searching for her own original style, is a modern young lady with a secret about her intimate childhood relationship with her brother, a sensitive, gifted, out-of-work mathematician with serious emotional problems. Johnnie becomes increasingly obsessed with the news of heightening anti-Semitism in Germany, and finds himself consumed by concerns about the fate of Jewish people; he is cruelly conflicted because his own family are self-loathing Jews, anxious to conceal their ethnic heritage. Webster skillfully portrays this troubled soul as a sage, the only Kamener who comprehends his Jewish identity and sees the encroaching danger. Agnes tries to compensate for her life's disappointments by marrying a young, opportunistic scoundrel. Using a spare prose style resonant with clues to the catastrophic times ahead, Webster deftly conveys a period of social history when women began voicing their sexual needs, unconventional values were infiltrating social norms and new art movements and Freudian psychoanalysis was becoming chic among the intelligentsia. (Mar.) FYI: Webster is president of PEN American Center West. She has loosely based this novel on the life of her mother, modernist painter Ethel Schwabacher.
Library Journal
Webster's second novel (after Sins of the Mothers, LJ 8/93) centers on a dysfunctional upper-class Jewish family living north of New York City in the 1910s. The patriarch, Eugene, a lawyer with an international practice, has just died, and wife Agnes, daughter Lara, and son John find the loss both liberating and frightening. Helpless, frigid Agnes throws herself at a man half her age who tricks her into signing over much of her fortune. Artist Lara, a stunning beauty, indulges in meaningless love affairs while suppressing the trauma of childhood incest. Mad engineer-cum-kite designer John, cosseted by his neurotic mother and abused by his domineering father, is terminally infantile, attracted to little girls and other unsuitable sexual partners. When Eugene dies, the family decides to relocate to the guest house on Paradise Farm, their home, and rent out the big house to a married couple, practicing psychiatrists who want to treat patients in relative isolation. The setting has possibilities, and Webster creates memorable characters, but this slender novel mostly skims the surface of the milieus her characters inhabit. An optional purchase.--Jo Manning, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables
Booknews
Set in 1929 before the Crash, portrays the disintegration and rebirth of a wealthy Jewish family in New York when the art world there was in ferment, women's roles were changing, the psychoanalytic movement was burgeoning, and Hitler was a funny little man almost no one paid attention to. Webster's second novel. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Publishers Weekly
In the spring of 1929, just before the stock market crash, a young woman struggles to achieve independence from a well-to-do, assimilated Jewish family whose neurotic needs have tremendous psychic impact. Webster crafts a coming-of-age tale exploring the psychological underpinnings of a family's dramatic life changes in a historically portentous moment. Using a spare prose style resonant with clues to the catastrophic times ahead, Webster deftly conveys a period of social history when women began voicing their sexual needs, unconventional values were infiltrating social norms and new art movements and Freudian psychoanalysis was becoming chic among the intelligentsia.
Kirkus Reviews
Second-novelist Webster (Sins of the Mothers, 1993) paints an appealing, if not wholly compelling, portrait of the sexual mores, intellectual habits, and bohemian aspirations of an upper-class Jewish family in 1929 New York. With the death of patriarch Eugene, Agnes and her grown children Lara and Johnnie lease the big house to David and his pregnant wife Muriel, two early converts to psychoanalysis who hope to turn the house and expansive grounds into a mental health center for disturbed children. While David and Muriel first focus their efforts on Robin, a young girl hesitating on the brink of autism, their attention gravitates also to Agnes' troubled family, now quartered in the big house's adjacent cottage. Agnes has begun a slightly sadomasochistic affair with the much younger Walter, a German baron with eyes for American wealth, while Lara, a struggling painter, holds a modern woman's views and conducts a random love life to prove it, though a childhood affair with her brother has tainted her perception of everything. Then there's Johnnie, a brilliant engineer who escapes from the world by designing and flying kites on the farm-and who's deemed crazy because of his obsession with the political instability of Germany. Though his distress at the world's growing anti-Semitism is well founded, his self-obsessed mother and flapper sister think that his recitations of Mein Kampf do little more than suggest his inability to get along with all concerned. Amid the family's turbulence, Webster evokes the times these characters live in-the lure of Harlem nightclubs and Florida land speculation, the excitement of the new "talking cure," and the burgeoning influence of cubism. The story hardlylacks for drama, but an odd emotional restraint seems even so to cauterize the characters in midstep. Engaging, though a certain essential vivacity is missing. .

From the Publisher
“In the spring of 1929, just before the stock market crash, a young woman struggles to achieve independence from a well-to-do, assimilated Jewish family whose neurotic needs have tremendous psychic impact. Webster (Sins of the Mothers) crafts a coming-of-age tale exploring the psychological underpinnings of a family’s dramatic life changes in a historically portentous moment. Using a spare prose style resonant with clues to the catastrophic times ahead, Webster deftly conveys a period of social history when women began voicing their sexual needs, unconventional values were infiltrating social norms and new art movements and Freudian psychoanalysis was becoming chic among the intelligentsia.” — Publishers Weekly

“What I find most compelling in this novel is the sensitive portrayal of complex psychological processes, a portrayal which is surgical in its accuracy, yet also deeply compassionate. The descriptions of Lara’s absorption in her painting rival those of Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse when she describes the ruminations of Lily Briscoe.

“There is a seriousness, depth, and intensity to this novel which give it a riveting, sometimes even hallucinatory quality. Yet the world it is anchored in is solidly real. Webster manages to evoke a specific social milieu and historical period (somewhat like Doctorow in Ragtime) while also entering into the inner psychological worlds of her characters with particular perceptiveness and intensity. The result is a novel of rare power both to disturb and reveal.” — Madelon Sprengnether, author of The Spectral Mother: Freud, Feminism and Psychoanalysis

“In this tale of bohemian life entre deux guerres, a woman artist finds a way to articulate the unspeakable. Spare and stirring—a wonderful novel.” — Diane Wood Middlebrook, author of Anne Sexton: A Biography

“An intriguing portrait of the artist as a young woman of means and genius. Loosely basing her narrative on the life story of her mother, the distinguished modernist painter Ethel Schwabacher, Brenda Webster traces her heroine’s evolution from dutiful art student to avant-garde innovator, at the same time offering incisive portraits of the haute-bourgeois Jewish intellectuals who inhabit ‘Paradise Farm’ at the tumultuous end of the 1920s.” — Sandra M. Gilbert, co-author of the Madwoman in the Attic: A Study of Women and the Literary Imagination in the Nineteenth Century

“Paradise Farm is one of those rare historical novels that also manages to be naturally and persuasively contemporary. It vividly evokes the life of East Coast artists and intellectuals toward the end of the 1920s, at a moment when modernism was in full bloom, psychoanalysis in its first great American vogue, and the shadow of the imminent stock market crash scarcely perceived. At the same time, Paradise Farm gives us the portrait of a young woman’s coming of age as an artist that speaks powerfully to our own era.” — Robert Alter, author of Pleasure of Reading in an Ideological Age

“Paradise Farm gives you the feel of a dysfunctional family in the late 1920s—a distant mysterious father, a sexually repressed mother, two incestuous siblings. The narrative intersects with the founding of a mental health center, whose only patient is an autistic child, and is played out against the broader international context of escalating anti-Semitism in fascist Germany. A stimulating read on every level.” — Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., author of Lying on the Couch

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780791440995
Publisher:
State University of New York Press
Publication date:
02/28/1999
Pages:
250
Product dimensions:
6.21(w) x 9.28(h) x 0.85(d)

What People are saying about this

Diane Wood Middlebrook
In this tale of bohemian life entre deux guerre, a woman artist finds a way to articulate the unspeakable. Spare and stirring—a wonderful novel.

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