Excerpt from White Oleander by Janet Fitch, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

White Oleander

by Janet Fitch

White Oleander by Janet Fitch X
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 1999, 390 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2000, 400 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The writers laughed, uneasily.

Nobody took any note when Bob, the publisher, came in. I dropped my head and used the T square, as if I were doing something official. So far he hadn't said anything about my coming to work with my mother, but Marlene, the art director, told me to "fly low, avoid the radar." He never noticed me. Only my mother. That day he came and stood next to her stool, reading over her shoulder. That day he just wanted to stand close to her, touch her hair that was white as glacier milk, and see if he could look down her shirt. I could see the loathing on her face as he bent over her, and then, as if to steady himself, put his hand on her thigh.

She pretended to startle, and in one spare movement, cut his bare forearm with the razor-edged X-acto.

He looked down at his arm, astonished at the thread of blood that began to appear.

"Oh, Bob!" she said. "I'm so sorry, I didn't see you there. Are you all right?" But the look that she gave him with her cornflower eyes showed him she could have just as easily slit his throat.

"No problem, just a little accident." His arm bore a two-inch gash below his polo shirt sleeve. "Just an accident," he said a bit louder, as if reassuring everybody, and scuttled back to his office.

For lunch, we drove into the hills and parked in the dappled shade of a big sycamore, its powdery white bark like a woman's body against the uncanny blue sky. We ate yogurt from cartons and listened to Anne Sexton reading her own poetry on the tape deck in her scary ironic American drawl. She was reading about being in a mental home, ringing the bells. My mother stopped the tape. "Tell me the next line."

I liked it when my mother tried to teach me things, when she paid attention. So often when I was with her, she was unreachable. Whenever she turned her steep focus to me, I felt the warmth that flowers must feel when they bloom through the snow, under in the first concentrated rays of the sun.

I didn't have to grope for the answer. It was like a song, and the light filtered through the sycamore tree as crazy Anne rang her bell, B-flat, and my mother nodded.

"Always learn poems by heart," she said. "They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they'll make your soul impervious to the world's soft decay."

I imagined my soul taking in these words like silicated water in the Petrified Forest, turning my wood to patterned agate. I liked it when my mother shaped me this way. I thought clay must feel happy in the good potter's hand.

In the afternoon, the editor descended on the art room, dragging scarves of Oriental perfume that lingered in the air long after she was gone. A thin woman with overbright eyes and the nervous gestures of a frightened bird, Kit smiled too widely in her red lipstick as she darted here and there, looking at the design, examining pages, stopping to read type over my mother's shoulder, and pointing out corrections. My mother flipped her hair back, a cat twitching before it clawed you.

"All that hair," Kit said. "Isn't it dangerous in your line of work? Around the waxer and all." Her own hairstyle was geometric, dyed an inky black and shaved at the neck.

My mother ignored her, but let the X-acto fall so it impaled the desktop like a javelin.

After Kit left, my mother said to the art director, "I'm sure she'd prefer me in a crew cut. Dyed to her own bituminous shade."

"Vampire 'n' Easy," Marlene said.

I didn't look up. I knew the only reason we were here was because of me. If it weren't for me, she wouldn't have to take jobs like this. She would be half a planet away, floating in a turquoise sea, dancing by moonlight to flamenco guitar. I felt my guilt like a brand.

That night she went out by herself. I drew for an hour, ate a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich, then drifted next door to Michael's, knocked on the hollow door. Three bolts fell back. "It's Queen Christina." He smiled, a gentle soft man about my mother's age, but puffy and pale from drinking and being inside all the time. He cleared a pile of dirty clothes and Variety from the couch so I could sit down.

© 1999 by Janet Fitch. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Little,Brown & Co.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Perfectionists
    The Perfectionists
    by Simon Winchester
    We seek precision in our lives every day. We want to drive from home to work and work to home safely...
  • Book Jacket: Beauty in the Broken Places
    Beauty in the Broken Places
    by Allison Pataki
    Ernest Hemingway wrote that we are "strong at the broken places," and Allison Pataki found that to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes was read and reviewed by 22 BookBrowse members for First ...
  • Book Jacket: The Judge Hunter
    The Judge Hunter
    by Christopher Buckley
    In London 1664, Balthasar de St. Michel or "Balty" has no discernable skills besides pestering his ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Clock Dance
    by Anne Tyler

    A delightful novel of one woman's transformative journey, from the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Tabor
    by Cherise Wolas

    Wolas's gorgeously rendered sophomore novel reckons with the nature of the stories we tell ourselves.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win A Place for Us

A Place For Us

A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

H, W H A Problem

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.