Though Stacey D’Erasmo is a well-known editor and journalist, Tea is her first novel. In this compelling work, the author shows how difficult the coming-of-age process can be.
Young Isabel Gold senses that there is something lacking in her family. Her parents have withdrawn from each other and from their children, her precise father, into his dry cleaning business, and her moody mother Cassie, into long naps after cups of what is described as tea. Isabel’s sister Jeannie fills the void in her life with dogs; Isabel looks to her female friends and lovers.
In “Morning,” the first section of the novel, Isabel is eight, desperately and lustfully in love with Ann but unimpressed with her religion. “Afternoon” begins with Cassie’s suicide, which leaves the teenaged Isabel so shaken that she has no sense of self. She does know that she is a lesbian, but in every other way, she simply adapts to others. At sixteen, Isabel is a pot-smoking adventurer like her friend Lottie, and at seventeen, a stage-smitten feminist like her lover Rebecca.
“Evening” begins with Isabel, at twenty-two, a virtual slave of her new lover, Thea. However, when Thea tells her that she cannot go home for Hanukkah, Isabel finally rebels. Though on her return to New York she finds that Thea has “replaced” her, what Isabel has discovered about her mother’s life will enable her to proceed with her own.
Tea is an impressive novel. Not only is it beautifully crafted, but it is also a profound exploration of such universal human problems as abandonment, betrayal, and, above all, the need for a sense of self.