The Beginner's Book of Dreams by Elizabeth Benedict

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The Beginner’s Book of Dreams

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Esme Singer, eight years old at the beginning of this novel, lives with her divorced mother Georgia in an apartment in New York City in the 1960’s. Georgia, a Lauren Bacall look-alike who was third runner-up in the 1947 Miss California beauty pageant, works at the makeup counter at Bonwit Teller during the day and drinks with a succession of sleazy boyfriends after dark. She tells Esme that she is waiting for a knight in shining armor to rescue her; Esme refers to this fantasy figure as Georgia’s “knight at the end of the tunnel.” Esme’s estranged father, Meyer Singer, has stayed behind in California to pursue various get-rich-quick schemes. Georgia claims that he consults RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT when he is trying to decide what to do with his life. In his infrequent postcards to his daughter, Meyer always promises that he will send for her soon, but of course he never does.

Esme lives in the shadow of her mother’s beauty, convinced that she will always be overweight and unattractive. She is also acutely aware of her mother’s--and her own--lack of culture. Esme’s best friend is Leah Marks, daughter of the world-famous photographer Don Marks. Dinner with Leah’s parents is like a final exam in current events: the conversation always touches on the latest books, plays, museum exhibits, and concerts. It is a far cry from the dinner parties her mother gives, which usually turn into drunken shouting matches. Esme crams for the Markses’ dinners in advance--Leah has given her a list of books, paintings, and records to memorize--but she is convinced that she will never catch up.

Eventually, however, Esme does learn to recognize and...

(The entire section is 428 words.)