Poet's novel about poetry is slow but tasty
Diane Weinstein's Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z. was not a novel I expected to like.
It's a book about the world and writers of poetry, which, although I like poetry, doesn't strike me as compelling novel fodder. Secondly, Annabelle, Weinstein's protagonist tells the reader the entire plot of the novel in the very first sentence. Maybe it's because I'm a mystery girl at heart, but I hate the idea of reading a novel when I already know the outcome.
Yet, much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z., for the most part.
The confessional/expos‚ tone immediately calls to mind Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus's The Nanny Diaries. Annabelle spends more time describing the strange and sometimes truly perverted personal lives of the poets, writers, and hangers-on with whom she interacts than actually completing her assigned tasks both for work and school. And I'm supposed to pity her when she gets fired?
I did feel badly for her after a series of agonizing mistakes while babysitting a cantankerous old lady for her boss, the infamous Z.
Throughout the novel, Annabelle tramps around in the personal life of Z. and her sphere, gauche as the proverbial bull in the china shop, contrasting quite nicely with the elegant flower descriptions she writes for Z. who, wait for it folks, publishes them as her own work.
Unfortunately for Annabelle- and the readership with her-her character is the least interesting of almost all the characters. Annabelle seems to exist simply as a facilitator and foil for the other characters. Happily, these secondary characters are as vivid, interesting, and decisive as I wish Annabelle were.
A poet herself, Weinstein has a fluid narrative style, full of fun words like my personal favorite "salonnarde." If the original poetry in the book is not intentionally plebian, which I sincerely hope it is, then Weinstein was quite brilliant to move from poetry into prose.
Who should read this book? Bitter ex-poets, people who like dark slice-of-life stories, and people who love Emily Dickinson so much they quote her regularly. Who's going to hate this book? People who need the plot to go somewhere, optimistic aspiring poets, and people with no tolerance for inane speculation and philosophizing.
Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z. is the complimentary dessert you eat simply because it's there, but ends up being quite tasty in its own right.
Rating: 2.5 Polar Bears (of 4)
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