Jessica's Reviews > White Oleander

White Oleander by Janet Fitch
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Nov 26, 07

bookshelves: crazy-ladies, chicklits, california-über-alles
Recommended for: secret members of oprah's book club
Read in January, 2006

There must be a reason why I've been able to recall many of the books I've read over the years, but that it took me until one of my most restless and procrastibatory nights in front of the blank Word doc to dredge this one up from the recesses of memory, even though I read it within the past year or two.

I'm pretty sure I know what that reason is, too: it's because on some level I'm embarrassed that I read this book, and that I actually really liked it.

I'm pretty sure I know where that embarrassment comes from, too: it's rooted in some pretty deep-level misogyny and discomfort about my most womany womanliness, or something like that anyway....

This book is the most Oprahiest Book Clubby selection I've ever read in my life. It's also the most estrogened-out, hyper-womany fiction I can even begin to think of. All the criticisms and stereotypes I (and a lot of you) hold about lady lit are present here, by the bundle: poetic, even overwrought language; melodramatic plotting; over-the-top characters; vivid, sensual description; almost fetishistic focus on sex, sexuality, and relationships.... aw, crap, I don't even know what my dreadful vestigial stereotypes about women's fiction are, only I'm 10,000% sure this book fulfilled all of them. It's called WHITE FUKKIN OLEANDER, for PETE'S SAKE!!!

Here's where the internalized misogyny comes in, of course, because WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THAT??? This book was far from perfect, there are some valid and gender-neutral criticisms I have of it, but it was good, and I enjoyed it, and the fact is that I apparently find this somehow embarrassing, and on some level must think I should really be digging on Chuck Palahniuk or Ernest Hemingway or that guy who writes those series books about old-timey sailing ships that middle-aged men love so much.... Like that is way more respectable or something. ARGH!!! Have all these thousands of dollars and book-hours spent on feminist indoctrination been for naught??? I ENJOYED WHITE OLEANDER! Yes, of course it did get a bit too silly for me at times, but on the whole I THOUGHT IT WAS A PRETTY GOOD STORY!

Okay, it was melodramatic, but that's part of what made it good. It's about this blonde shorty with a crazy, really horrid white witch of a psycho blonde poet mother, who is scorned by this chumpy-seeming LA cheeseball in a Hawaiian shirt, and hell hath no fury like a psycho poet lady, the mom kills guy, goes to prison, blah blah blah.... So the kid, Astrid -- or maybe Ingrid? -- I forget -- winds up in foster care, and the book is her bouncing around from LA foster home to foster home and experiencing, as my own mother put it, all these different types of moms.

Like Push, another book I need to review, there are moments you cannot believe the author was able to type with a straight face. You're like, "NO, come ON, this is RIDICULOUS! You can't POSSIBLY make ANOTHER outlandishly bad thing happen to this poor defenseless character! Pull yourself together Janet, I CAN'T take this seriously." Like at one point the girl gets attacked by a dog, and I actually started laughing. BUT NONE OF IT IS MORE RIDICULOUS THAN JUDE THE OBSCURE, WHICH WAS NOT, LAST TIME I CHECKED, PART OF OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB. LADY WRITERS DO NOT HAVE A MONOPOLY ON THIS KIND OF PATHOS!

Anyway, I liked this book. I can't believe I'm so defensive about it! I must really have issues. But does anyone else on here know what I mean? I noticed that NONE of my friends have read this book, which makes me wonder whether there are others among us who have somehow "forgotten," as I had myself, until I sat down tonight to write a paper.

BTW, I tried reading part of this years ago, when the author visited my college writing class (she had gone to my school), and I couldn't choke it down that first time. BUT, Ms. Fitch did tell a good story about Oprah calling her personally to say she was in the book club, which I won't repeat here because... I have run out of characters.
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by matthew (new)

matthew tell the story in comments, jessica - it sound interesting.

your review just makes me want to read hardy.


message 2: by matthew (new)

matthew i like "wuthering heights" - is that womany enough?


message 3: by matthew (new)

matthew correction: i love "wuthering heights".


message 4: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Jessica, there is something very womany about Kincaid's _Lucy_ (boys in particular tell me this). What do you think?


message 5: by Calmbob (new)

Calmbob From Jude the Obscure forward from the-top pathos, torturing of characters, to falling over the edge to satire, try Evenly Waugh, if I remember correctly, Scoop...maybe Brideshead...at a lawn party, stuffing cake into his mouth, getting shot (literally) in the foot...and on and on


message 6: by Calmbob (new)

Calmbob ...womany books...Woolf? Virginia Woolf? I As a *guy* I don't see her books as (1) woman-oriented in point of view, (2) advancing any gender cause, (3) presenting women as more real than men...etc... The only candidate that I can think of as "womany" is Orlando...hmmmm


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm sure you can't feel the same kind of embarrasment as being a guy who likes White Oleander.


message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny Oh dear. One of those great reviews that makes you want to read a book it's gleefully tearing to pieces.

I will resist! That's what you want me to do... right?



rachel  misfiticus Jessica, have you ever read "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb? He practically tortures the main character. Something absurd and grotesque happens to her in practically every chapter!


message 10: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Wow, I completely agree:
You really have issues.


Barbara I think I would take your review more seriously if you stopped littering your text with all caps. I DON'T LIKE TO BE YELLED AT!


message 12: by Donna (new) - added it

Donna Hahaha, excellent review. And I completely agree with what you said about Push. If I remember correctly, I had a similar reaction to The Colour Purple.


Michelle Jessica, I want to understand. I really do. It's a book. I don't want to come off as snobbish or make you feel attacked simply because you failed to grasp Astrid's story. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, it doesn't seem as though you are, but "outlandishly bad things" happen and not just in novels. This book resonates with me on such a personal level that I can't help feeling a tad insulted that you'd go as far as to say these events are "outlandish". For example, Astrid's broken relationship with her mother — I see so much of my mother within these pages and the imprisonment that I feel is the price that comes along with having a relationship with her. I understand Astrid. Have you ever heard of Borderline Personality Disorder?


Aly (Fantasy4eva) You're not alone! I read It a few years back and it continues to stay with me.


message 15: by Tiffany Nero (new)

Tiffany Nero Even see


Sharon Albanese this review made me laugh out loud. very funny, and spot on.


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