BWW Reviews: ROBIN'S BLUE by Pam Alster Brings Back 1980s Excess And Survival
ROBIN'S BLUE by Pam Alster (Plexgirl Media) is a less than lighthearted romp through the late 1970's and the 1980's. Those who lived through disco, cocaine, and nearly-anonymous sex as a way of life then will find the story all too familiar - but whether familiar or not, the story of Robin Daniels is compelling.
Told as a first-person narrative, readers will be hard-pressed to remind themselves that they are not reading a memoir - it is not the story of the author's life (Pam Alster may be known to some as the playwright responsible for SHOP BLOOMINGDALE'S), but the fictional woman whose life is recounted has it done so in the most remarkable fashion, the truly realistic. Though it is a quick read, it is neither a shallow nor a superficial one; it is the story of a woman finally finding her own depth.
Dropping out of a private girls' school after the breakup of a relationship with a Senator's daughter and sister student, Robin chooses to decamp from the Middle Atlantic to the Deep South, running away from an abusive father, a status-obsessed sister, and bad memories, but with no thought of what she may be running to. What she finds includes a fast arrest and release, a brief and stormy marriage, and the quick, easy anesthesia of alcohol and drugs, while she sleeps her way up the social ladder. It's a nearly-familiar tale of life at that time, but original in its detailed and believable description, and in Robin's slowly developing awareness that her life had derailed somewhere along the line.
Finding money for drugs, travel, and designer clothing in her new career as an exclusive call girl, Robin starts looking for meaning, but not waking to what's in front of her until the start of the AIDS epidemic starts hitting her closest friends in her exclusive Florida circles. Her decision to clean up her act isn't brought on by sudden divine revelation, or by hitting a personal low, but by her own slow but present growth. It's a realization that money isn't everything, nor is competing with or managing to impress either her sister or any of the men she's used in her longer-term relationships as funding sources. Her ultimate choices may seem comparatively mundane, but they are rewarding to her, and that is what matters.
And it matters to us, because Robin, for all her flaws, is someone who's likeable, not only to the people she meets but to the people reading about her. Were it a real memoir, she would indeed be a person with a story to tell; Alster channels Robin's life perfectly, creating a young woman whose coming into herself as a mature adult evolves naturally in the midst of the unnatural hot-house social lifestyle of the free-wheeling, free-spending 1980's. And in Robin's doubts, fears, and insecurities most of us will find echoes of our own, and the reminders of the choices we've faced in deciding what to do with them, and with our lives. We want her to succeed because we want to succeed ourselves, and her hope for the future becomes ours just as her fears are ours.
Most impressively, Alster keeps Robin's narrative from sliding into "chick-lit". Even her designer clothing shopping sprees avoid the cloying Manolo-and-Vuitton-shopping narratives that a number of current authors slide into, and we are never treated to monologues on the difficulties of maintaining one's rent-controlled luxury apartment in the East Fifties on the heroine's current lavish salary at her exotic job. Robin's life revolves around real people and real issues, not lunch after name-dropping lunch. This may be Alster's first novel, but her play writing skills have come into good use with her character development. Robin and her friends come to us fully realized on the page, and they and their lives change in believable ways that readers will care about.
It's been described as a coming-of-age story, but ROBIN'S BLUE is more than that, certainly. It's a vivid reminder for many readers of their own surviving of the 1980's, and a brightly-painted portrait for those who weren't there of a decade that is almost impossible to describe in a few words. Step into Robin's world, and buckle your seat belt - you're in for a memorable ride.
Graphic Credit: Plexigirl Media