White Oleander, by Janet FitchPosted: August 15, 2011
White Oleander, by Janet Fitch, is practically prose poetry the whole way through. The language is rich and textured, rendering the details of each scene in heartrending detail. The story follows Astrid Magnussen, whose mother, Ingrid, is a poet who tells Astrid they are descended from Vikings. Ingrid despises weakness and worships strength and intelligence – especially her own. When she is rejected by a lover, she is driven mad and kills the man, landing herself in prison and Astrid in foster care. There follows six years of foster homes for Astrid, from the cruel to the ignorant to one tender woman that Astrid actually comes to love. Tied to her mother’s legacy and harshness through letters and a few visits to the prison, Astrid struggles to find herself and peace with the world as she grows from girl to woman.
The whole book is heart wrenching. At times, Astrid is strong, at others she is weak; she is human. As the story progresses, I found myself perched on the edge of my seat, just waiting for the next disaster to befall Astrid. This is fabulous writing, since it conveys Astrid’s own fear and sense that everything is temporary to the reader. At times, I was tripped up by the choppiness of the prose, but the vast majority of it is expressive, poetic, and emotional. I was unsure as I neared the end of the book how the story could possibly end with any sort of finality,* but ultimately it was wrapped up in such a way that I was satisfied with Astrid’s development as a character, the events surrounding her mother’s trial, and the forecasted future for Astrid.
*Not, of course, that finality at the end of a novel is a necessity. Some books simply end – and that bugs me.