Squandering the Blue

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Kate Braverman began her literary career as a poet and still writes like a poet. In “Points of Decision” (about an estranged couple visiting Kauai on a miserable second honeymoon), she writes: “Below, the whales are passing south, swelling the ocean with intelligence.” There are many such surprising images in this collection. Her stories are autobiographical; she does not seem to know how to write any other way. Most deal with women on the verge of a nervous breakdown who are fighting a losing battle against chemical dependency of one kind or another. An extreme example is “A Touch of Autumn,” which describes a woman driving eighty miles an hour on a winding road in a car containing an assortment of cigarettes, vodka, marijuana, tranquilizers, pain medications, cocaine, hashish, opium, and disposable syringes.

Braverman’s heroines are all divorced or nearly so. Many are trying to rear small children on their own. In “Over the Hill,” Braverman makes this chilling assessment of modern society: “There are no families anymore, only women with children.” These middle-class California women had their heyday in the late 1960’s, when drugs, radical politics, sexual promiscuity, and unbridled individualism were the norm. Now, on the other side of forty, they cannot get their lives back in order. The stories are reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s haunting “Babylon Revisited” as well as J.P. Miller’s play DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, in which the alcoholic wife says to her husband, “I can’t get over how dirty everything looks.”

Braverman’s stories are very moving because she hurls herself into her work; she holds nothing back. She could become one of America’s best fiction writers. Her faults are that she overwrites and is too self-centered. The reader wearies of her long descriptions of clouds, waves, and landscapes, which are an inadequate substitute for dramatic interaction between three-dimensional characters. She has not yet made what author Joan Didion called the “quantum leap” of realizing that her personal problems are really social problems from which countless others suffer as well.