The Rendezvous

Charles Taylor reviews 'The Rendezvous' by Justine Levy

Published December 11, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

It's hard to tell whether this debut novel from Justine Levy (daughter of the French philosopher Bernard Levy) is slimmer in pages or ideas. "The Rendezvous" is told by 18-year-old Louise and takes place entirely in the course of the day she spends -- from morning until evening -- waiting at a cafe for her mother to show up. Le mere, a former fashion model, is the bee's knees when it comes to glamour but not so hot in the responsibility department. Well, my dears, being an alcoholic vagabond bisexual junkie does have its price.

Reading "The Rendezvous," I couldn't decide what was sillier: that an utterly selfish and irresponsible woman who never misses a chance to fail her daughter was being presented, as the book's blurbs would have you believe, as some sort of "acknowledgment that motherhood itself is an impossibly idealized state" (Josephine Hart), or that a young woman, after a lifetime of such treatment, wouldn't cut her losses and stop making herself miserable over her "acute case of unrequited longing for her dazzling but radically unreliable mother" (Daphne Merkin). Finally, it's a toss of the coin what's more annoying: a grown woman who's so selfish and self-destructive she lets her daughter discover her dead drunk or OD'd, who exposes her child to all her sleazy lovers (there's something a tad reactionary in the way Levy makes her mother's lesbian lover the sleaziest, beckoning Louise into the bath with them for what, it's implied, won't be a chorus of "Splish Splash") and who periodically abandons her daughter when she becomes inconvenient; or a young woman who, all evidence to the contrary, refuses to learn the simple life lesson that parents are people, as imperfect as any others, and sometimes more so. "The Rendezvous" seems cunningly conceived to appeal to both camps: to daughters who resent their mothers and to mothers who feel guilty but justified about living their own lives. You can imagine members of both groups buying copies to give to each other tearfully at birthdays and Christmas.

Since I haven't yet said anything about Levy's literary style, let me just note that it veers from what could be a parody of jet-set potboilers ("Hello, pet, I'm back from Kuala Lampur, I have a lot of silly little things to tell you. Would you meet me at the Escritoire, in the Place de la Sorbonne, tomorrow at eleven? Kisses and hugs, my kitten") to New Agey forgiveness-and-healing-speak ("Maybe we thought it was the thing to do, to love each other, mother and daughter. But still, we believed in it. With pain, awkwardness, worry, pain again" -- that's gotta hurt -- "but we believed in it. And I, and I" -- ay yi yi -- "despite what anyone might say to me ... despite drugs and craziness, despair and prison, despite your egotism, your dreadful egotism, which is also a sin against yourself ... I would like you to know, Mama, that I have loved you infinitely").

Lest I be accused of having a heart of stone, I would like to say that "The Rendezvous" did not leave me unmoved. Reading of Anne, the sozzled, strung-out, bisexual glamour-and-drama queen, I felt a real pang of loss remembering that the great Divine is not alive to play her.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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