Francesca Lia Block,
Violet & Clare
(HarperCollins, 2000)

Francesca Lia Block, an acclaimed American author of young-adult novels (often with fantasy overtones), in her most recent book paints a realistic portrait of friendship between teenage girls. The plot deals with how they use their powers of imagination and empathy to sustain their relationship in this non-fantasy story nonetheless gorgeously written in Block's uniquely poetic, emotionally resonant style.

The author sets Violet & Clare in her often-used Los Angeles background. Here the paradoxical contrasts between the glamour and heartbreak of the dominant entertainment industry propels much of the narrative. The eponymous protagonists, best friends with polar opposite personalities, find their differences, when combined, make a complementary whole.

Violet, 17, angry, intense and fiercely ambitious to write and direct films, narrates the first third of the book. The second part, told by Clare, also 17, reveals her to be a bit more passive, imagining she descends from fairies to explain her feelings of alienation. She also writes poetry in order to transcend the casual cruelties of daily life. The final third of the novel, told from the omniscient authorial observer point of view, completes the story arc in which each girl gets what she thinks she wants with unexpected consequences that only their friendship for each other can resolve. Violet, while still in high school, lands a six-figure screenwriting deal and Clare begins a romance with her poetry teacher.

These fulfilled dreams soon sour, estranging the two girls from each other when the film script mentor proves too manipulative and the poetry teacher turns out to be unfaithful. The hurt resulting from these painful experiences heals when Violet and Clare reaffirm their relationship which restores the balance missing in their separate personalities.

Violet & Clare's story abounds with Block's exquisite prose that poetically transforms the two protagonists' experiences with overnight fame, ridicule for belief in fairy ancestry, artistic expressions, sex and drugs, glamorous parties and the environs of Los Angeles itself -- taking these elements and making them fresh and exciting.

The narrative lines in this book provide a clear division between the fantastic and the real, exemplified by Claire's imaginary history of a lost race of "fairies" that "the patriarchy" turned into little insect-like beings -- so she explains to Violet. Violet & Clare excels also when Violet's cynical voice and Clare's dreaminess in her narrative gradually grow less distinct and come to resemble each other because the protagonists reach past their own pain to help each other.

Readers familiar with Block's work will relish Violet & Clare while newcomers will be captivated by the lush iridescence of the author's prose. This worthwhile book sheds a transformative light onto the frequently complex, sometimes problematic nature of close friendships thanks to Block's hip and wise descriptions of the darkest of teen angst amidst the hallucinatory shine of Hollywood glitz.

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001

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