Picks and Pans Review: Half a Life
by Jill Ciment
Los Angeles is ablaze with brush-fires the day the Ciments arrive in the mid-'60s, a family itself on the verge of combustion. When the author's remote, angry father ceases functioning, save for obsessive gardening, and her dreamy mother evicts him, the teenage Jill finds herself living in poverty. Distributing flyers to earn a few dollars, she sneaks into cars and gazes in rear-view mirrors from plush seats, "hoping to catch a glimpse of myself against the luxurious fabric of a different destiny."
Moxie and a knack for subterfuge are required for some of her other income-producing ventures, which include composing phony questionnaire responses for the mesmerizingly creepy pollster Lenny and disrobing for photo-taking patrons of the Escapade Modeling Agency. Art school and an affair with a much older art teacher (whom she eventually weds) provide deliverance from her anomie-fueled existence, though she keeps her "heart in check" during rare sightings of her absentee father. Ciment's deadpan humor lends an almost picaresque quality to her experiences. In stark prose, this wrenching tale evokes exhilaration and terror. (Crown, $23)
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