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Violet & ClaireReview - Violet & Claire
by Francesca Lia Block
HarperCollins, 1999
Review by Toby Emert, M.A., M.Ed.
Oct 16th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 42)

My introduction to Francesca Lia Block was her short story collection Girl Goddess #9, which I read last spring at the suggestion of a teacher friend who said many of the teenagers she knows are devouring Block's books (she currently has at least ten on bookstore shelves). I think I know why; they are hooked, like I am, on her quirky sensibility. I've certainly never read other books written specifically for and about adolescents that delve so deeply into such strange levels of dysfunction and simultaneously dither in the world of magic realism. Occasionally the stories in Girl Goddess #9 dip into the macabre, but mostly they skim along the surface of what could be a vast and painful and uniquely human sea, only pushing beneath the surface enough to make us hold our breath a few seconds at a time. I never had the sense of drowning, but I did have the sense that danger lurked nearby.

In Violet & Claire, however, I felt myself dragged along beneath the water in ways that left me gasping occasionally. Block has written the extraordinarily painful story of two young women whose friendship ultimately buoys them through a storm of conflicts, but just barely. At times, both women nearly succumb to the fractured worlds that have been created for them and that they continue to create.

Violet is a film enthusiast whose ambition to be a writer and director eventually temporarily claims her soul. She meets Claire--who, in true Francesa Lia Block-esque style, wears gauzy wings attached to her t-shirt--at the school they both attend and is immediately enchanted with Claire's ethereal innocence. Violet calls Claire "Tinkerbell." Like Violet, Claire is an artist-a poet, to be precise. The girls develop a quick kinship, and Violet offers Claire the lead in the movie script she's trying to write.

The relationship falters, however, when Violet sells her screenplay and drops too quickly into the fab-glam arena of Hollywood over-indulgence and self-loathing. Claire, in the meantime, falls hard for an older poet, whose penchant for language is at first beguiling. He, of course, ultimately reveals his flawed nature. Violet distrusts the poet and Claire feels abandoned by her friend when she becomes an overnight success story. However, after Block follows her two heroines through the worlds of stardom and youthful illusion, she eventually turns them toward each other in their searches for safety and acceptance.

I wonder at this writing, at what compels Block to create such tragic and unsophisticated--yet worldly--characters. She has peeled back the veneers in this book, bringing to the surface two teenagers that the current generation of adolescents recognizes and, perhaps, loves. The layering of fantasy and harsh reality in Violet & Claire leaves me on the edge of understanding, leaves me wanting to read it all again to see if I can get a tighter grip on Block's intentions. But the marvel of her popularity clearly says that she's striking chords her young audiences want to hear.

© 2001 Toby Emert

Toby Emert is currently finishing up a doctorate in Education at the University of Virginia. He has worked as a freelance journalist, a classroom teacher, a counselor, and a director in offices, classrooms, and on stages in several major US cities.


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