There’s a lot of good writing out there—an amazing amount, really, considering the ongoing moaning and groaning going on about the “death of literacy’’ and other current cultural shibboleths—but not that much that is truly original, free of clearly demarcated literary influences, antecedents and referents.
A thousand Eggers, David Foster Wallaces, let alone Kerouac and Salinger imitators, bloom from every Brooklyn basement and suburban redoubt. All the more remarkable, then, when someone finds a way to make it new, speaking her own truths against the powers of the past.
Which makes Los Angeles author Lenore Zion’s first novel, Stupid Children (Emergency Press, $15.95), all the more remarkable.
“According to my father, he was assigned a grief counselor when my mother died,’’ she begins. “It was sudden—an unanticipated death, and he was left to care for me all on his own—and I was just an infant, seven months old, actually, so his grief was fueled by both loss and overwhelming responsibility. From time to time, I feel rather guilty about this. I wish I could have been older so I could have pitched in. Maybe I could have gotten a job to help out.”
Jane, Zion’s fictional protagonist, is wise beyond her years, a smart-ass struggling to find her way in a confusing, and often frightening world, as her father struggles with his own loneliness, sometimes waking her in the middle of the night so they can go to a diner for an early breakfast. The world becomes even scarier—much scarier—when he attempts suicide, leaving her in the hands of two Florida foster parents who belong to a cult called Second Day Believers, whose belief systems could find a comfortable home amid the followers of Jim Jones or the farther reaches of Scientology.