Like Byatt and Shields, D'Erasmo is too interested in conveying the texture of lived experience to reach a neat conclusion. Certain aspects of her characters remain properly mysterious, and the novel's ending leaves them, as it should, in the midst of their lives. But what is abundantly clear throughout is D'Erasmo's talent and intelligence. A Seahorse Year succeeds in being both deeply satisfying and quietly subversive.
The New York Times
The present-tense voicing and quick splicing between scenes lend a nice sense of urgency to the narrative. As Hal heads to visit Christopher in a psychiatric institute, he muses that the purpose of his life is "this exact drive, on this exact day, at this exact moment." One can almost imagine Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway reflecting on a certain moment in June.
The Washington Post
D'Erasmo's quiet, penetrating second novel (after Tea) follows a San Francisco family coping with a 16-year-old son's mental illness. Christopher's mom, Nan, is in a long-term relationship with girlfriend Marina, who's like another mom; his sperm donor dad, Hal, is gay, a dancer-turned-CPA. But despite the unconventional setup, his parents sometimes act with the confused stiffness of the most traditional of families. When Christopher runs away the first time, Nan is distraught; she explains that her son had "a freak-out, we think. He wouldn't wash, he was angry all the time, he was saying all sorts of strange stuff, and he just, he just wasn't Christopher." After Christopher is fetched home, he's diagnosed with schizophrenia; Nan, meanwhile, is grasping at connection, and Marina's sleeping with someone else. D'Erasmo portrays Christopher's strange thoughts with beauty and insight; his misguided girlfriend, Tamara, is also tenderly, convincingly rendered. The family's unsettled state adds to the complications, as Christopher nearly kills himself and then escapes, with Tamara's help, from a mental health facility. As D'Erasmo shifts between different points of view-distinct, but united by her lush prose-she paints a portrait of illness, but also of growth and change. 5-city author tour. Agent, Jennifer Carlson. (July 7) Forecast: The book's non-traditional family set-up and effortless prose will remind readers of Michael Cunningham's early novels, and should help build D'Erasmo's readership. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In her second novel (after Tea), D'Erasmo explores how a supposedly unconventional family is no different from a traditional one when confronted with difficult choices. Set in contemporary San Francisco, the story centers on Nan, an ex-Texan bookseller; Hal, an accountant who was once a local celebrity in a campy gay troupe; their teenaged son, Christopher; and Nan's artist lover, Marina. The balancing acts that define their lives are challenged when Christopher is diagnosed with a serious mental illness and disappears into the northern California hills with his girlfriend. Alternating perspectives and controlled, nuanced writing bring depth and compassion to each character, illuminating their flaws and contradictions to full effect. While this is a strong domestic drama, it loses momentum toward the end and is weakest in its depiction of teenage angst (e.g., the repetitive references to P.J. Harvey run thin). But the sympathetically drawn characters and brilliant moments in her writing make D'Erasmo an author to watch. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/04.]-Misha Stone, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A typically atypical San Francisco family (two gay mothers and a gay father) restructure their lives after their son is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Sixteen-year-old Chris's condition has just emerged. He's missing, and his biological mother Nan and father Hal are beside themselves. Behind her matter-of-fact exterior, Nan is a fragile soul whose unhappy, abused childhood has led her to a passionate need for family and home. Although Hal was literally a sperm donor-he and Nan never actually had sex together-he has been an intensely involved father. Rounding out the picture is Marina, the artist who lives with and deeply loves Nan but is currently having an affair with an art student. After the first harrowing scenes of his disappearance, Chris is found and diagnosed, but the emotional roller coaster ride has just begun. Hal, once a dancer in a group resembling the Coquettes of the '60s but now a CPA, pays for an expensive clinic that places Chris on a semi-experimental drug protocol that calms him. When he comes home, fat and docile, he resumes his relationship with his girlfriend Tamara, and the adults want to believe he's better. But after a nearly fatal disaster at the beach, he enters another facility, though Tamara, in a misguided act of obsessive adolescent love, helps him escape. Chris isn't able to cope, and another near disaster occurs before the teenagers are found. Meanwhile, Nan and Marina's relationship crumbles while Hal finds love with a corporate mediator (who happens to be black). Chris goes on to a group home, a job, a life, imperfect but his own. Second-novelist D'Erasmo (Tea, 2000) creates a fully realized world of politically correct yet complex characters andsituations, but a tone of self-important seriousness that goes beyond the demands of the admittedly serious situation may well get on readers' nerves. Iris Murdoch-lite but without Murdoch's light touch. Agent: Jennifer Carlson/Dunow Carlson