At its heart, GIRL TALK is about a great fear shared by many women coming of age --- becoming our mothers. It shows how it always happens when you least expect it and that there is no avoiding it. But most importantly, by the end of Julianna Baggott's stunning debut novel, one has learned to accept this fear with grace and dignity. Just like Mom would want.
Lissy Jablonski is almost 30. She is an ad executive in Manhattan. Her first love has come to stay with her and ends up marrying her stripper ex-roomate --- and Lissy is pregnant by her married ex-lover. The power of these events culminates in a comic flashback to what is known throughout the book as "the summer that never happened." Lissy was 15 years old that summer. Her father ran off with a redheaded bank teller, and she began to realize that everything she knew about herself and her family was a lie. Amid a cast of vividly drawn characters, Lissy begins to come to terms with the secrets revealed during her comforting "girl talks" with her mother. In an attempt to spare her daughter the humiliation of her father's moral misstep, Dotty Jablonski takes Lissy away from her New Hampshire life to the only refuge she can think of: the home of her rich college friend, Juniper Fiske.
The Fiske family, including children Piper and Church, are possibly the oddest refuge for the Jablonski women during that fateful summer, considering that Lissy's parents met at Juniper's wedding. They are the type of rich people we all know: Piper is teenaged and sullen; Juniper, valium-addicted and high strung; and Church is boyishly handsome and impressionable. Perhaps the most compassionately drawn character, Church Fiske is the kind of guy that every girl has had a crush on, the kind of guy that stays with you years later, still holding onto the part of your heart that believed love was easy. When Church joins Lissy and her mother at their next refuge, his impressionable soul becomes forever wary of the life of excess he is used to. He falls in love with everything middle class and sets the tone for the man he will become.
It is also in the home of Dino and Ruby Pantuliano that Lissy gets to know more about her real father, Anthony Pantuliano. A dwarfish man with a rather impressive body, Anthony is the first --- and seemingly only --- true-love Lissy's mother ever had. Although Anthony does not know he is her father, Lissy becomes attached to the persona of him. She has both been raised by a man who loves her greatly, and created as a result of a great love. The importance of these two men in her life finds its origin during that summer that never happened. Throughout the stay with the Soprano-like Patulianos, Lissy begins to form the basis of what her therapist refers to as an Electra Complex and to learn to understand why her mother is who she is.
GIRL TALK is wildly funny and benefited much in this reading by being set in an easily identifiable era. With references to WHAM! and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, it becomes easy to interpose oneself with Lissy. Statements such as "My earliest word association with president is crook," make the novel both timely and timeless. We could be talking about Nixon, or anyone for that matter.
Reviewed by Josette Kurey on February 1, 2002
Girl Talk: A Novel