The Bride of Catastrophe


The year is 1974, the place is Sweetriver College, and Beatrice Wolfe is telling the story of her life to the glamorous young professor Philippa Sayres. So begins the achingly funny, often heartbreaking story of Beatrice's quest to escape the gothic eccentricity of her family and to find an authentic identity of her own.

Married in a misbegotten passion, her parents are totally unsuited to farming or to any kind of business. The four Wolfe children's lives are ruled by their ...

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The year is 1974, the place is Sweetriver College, and Beatrice Wolfe is telling the story of her life to the glamorous young professor Philippa Sayres. So begins the achingly funny, often heartbreaking story of Beatrice's quest to escape the gothic eccentricity of her family and to find an authentic identity of her own.

Married in a misbegotten passion, her parents are totally unsuited to farming or to any kind of business. The four Wolfe children's lives are ruled by their mother, whose larger-than-life demands and fears encircle them in a darkly comic web of contradictions. When they finally lose their "farm," Bea's family spirals out of control.

As her siblings live out the consequences of their parents' ruinous romance, Bea struggles to find a truer love for herself. Still under Philippa's spell, she joins a lesbian community and becomes so committed to her new gay life that she barely notices she's falling in love with a man - a man just risen from the ashes of addiction, whose re-creation of himself she threatens to undo.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Schmidt has graced Beatrice's tale with a winningly arch and self-disarming voice...If at times The Bride of Catastrophe seems overstuffed with outlandish incident, and Beatrice's private life an implausible mess, that voice, and all the good-humored angst that comes with it, is more than worth the price of admission. Beatrice may be a long way from mastering her life, but Schmidt has given her an enviable command of the book of love.—Chris Lehmann
Publishers Weekly
Slipping from the clutches of her reclusive, eccentric family, Beatrice Wolfe makes her way to elite Sweetriver College and then on to bleak late 1970s Hartford. The bright but overwrought and self-important heroine of Schmidt's erratic debut novel is seeking a new identity, but she is hampered in her search by her dysfunctional family, whom she has puffed up to near mythical proportions in her mind. This is particularly true of her mother, Claire, an unhappy woman who has given her "raindropsized world... such complex drama that it became a virtual sea." Somewhat inaccurately describing her parents as "victims of love," Beatrice determines to become an expert in love, embarking on a dogged relationship hunt. Her misguided quest leads her into a deadening relationship with a woman, an apparent polar opposite of Claire. Beatrice's foibles, rendered in the first person, are handled with a combination of sarcasm and tenderness by Schmidt, who captures very well the intense, painful melodramas of youth and the often "foggy tide basin of female feeling." The author of two short story collections (Darling?; The Rose Thieves), Schmidt has a keen eye for detail and a sharp sense of humor. "I did not ask myself whether a love excited by spite was really the kind of love I was looking for," Beatrice tells the reader. "I was in no position for such a proud question." But, like Beatrice herself, Schmidt is prone to melodrama, overwriting already emotional scenes and throwing around literary allusions to everyone from Euripides to John Updike in an effort to broaden and deepen her story's import. The result is a first novel that careens from highstrung editorializing to astute observation, never quite managing to build a complete, believable world for its maddening yet arresting characters. 8-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Schmidt's first novel will comfortably share the shelf with works such as John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire and Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast. All are comic novels about closely knit families tragically run amok owing to the excesses and neglect of one or both parents. In Schmidt's novel, Beatrice, the oldest of four living children, tries to break away from the extreme neediness and conflicting expectations of her parents while simultaneously attempting to please and reassure them. Beatrice's attempts to disengage lead her into a string of dysfunctional relationships, none particularly serving her own intense needs. In the end, as Beatrice's siblings pile up as casualties, Beatrice herself appears to have an epiphany that makes her future path clear. But she has really progressed nowhere and is still devising a means to fulfill the dreams of her parents. Those who carry the baggage of childhood or continue to strive to please their parents on into adulthood will want to read this book. Recommended for all public libraries and for academic libraries with contemporary literature collections.-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Interminably solipsistic and frequently caustic novel debut about a '70s college graduate's first year of sexual conflict. The author has honed her craft in two story collections that are snappier (Darling?, 2001, etc.). Having grown up on a farm in Connecticut sets naïve scholarship student Beatrice Wolfe apart from her swanky classmates at Vassar-like Sweetriver College in upstate New York. The stories Beatrice tells of her emotionally dramatic mother and banal, entrepreneurial father offer mordant raw material to her bossy lesbian comparative literature professor Philippa Sayres, who takes her young student seriously-for the first time in Beatrice's life-by having a brief but meaningful affair with her. But thrust out in the real world upon graduation, and rejected by Philippa, Beatrice has to make a living by her liberal-arts education. Moving, inexplicably, to Hartford, and coming out of the closet to her nonplussed family, which begins to disintegrate on its own, Beatrice takes jobs in succession on a dietary assembly line in a nursing home, a women's clothing shop, and, with final poetic justice, in the city's public library. Beatrice's involvement with a quirky, obsessive-compulsive insurance administrator, Lee, becomes her first defiant act of lesbianism. Meanwhile, Beatrice's mother is divorcing her dad (and becomes involved with her teenaged student); one sister, 16-year-old Sylvie, gets pregnant and lives in a trailer with an ex-con; and another sister, Dolly, moves out to Wyoming protectively with Dad only to get hit by lightning. Schmidt's chirpy dialogue imbues her characters with colorful vibrancy-Ma and Philippa, for example-while Beatrice's bisexual torment is palpable,if irritating ("Once you were a lesbian, dreams came true," she says cheerfully). Or has she found true love with her male boss and former addict with the snake tattoo, Stetson Tortola? There are a lot more sad, dotty, touching stories here, making for a long-winded, noisy narrative that simulates the mid-'70s Zeitgeist. Very much a first novel with gusts of feeling and dervish-like direction. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312423421
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 795,616
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Heidi Jon Schmidt is the author of the acclaimed story collections Darling? and The Rose Thieves. Her stories have been widely published and anthologized, most recently in The O. Henry Awards: Prize Stories 2002. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she teaches at the Fine Arts Work Center.

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