ALICE SADIE CELINE, by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright. Read by Chloë Sevigny.
The absence of commas in the title of Sarah Blakley-Cartwright’s richly intimate debut adult novel hints at the characters’ boundary-less enmeshment in one another’s lives. The reader can’t help hearing the three names as a single one, the way a mother might convey annoyance by using her daughter’s first, middle and last.
Mother- and daughter-hood are porous states for the book’s core trio. Twenty-something Sadie is the meticulous, no-nonsense offspring of Celine, a lauded lesbian feminist and public intellectual — “disruptive,” her daughter thinks, “a destabilizing agent” with “bulldozer energy.” Alice has been Sadie’s best and only friend since high school, and is now a struggling actress playing the role of Hermione in a community theater production of “The Winter’s Tale.” Sadie can’t attend the show — she’s trying to lose her virginity to her boyfriend, a nerve-racking endeavor for the child of a vociferously sex-obsessed celebrity — and sends her mother instead.
Bulldoze Celine does: She and Alice end up in bed together. “Alice had slept with Celine,” Blakley-Cartwright writes, because “she was 20 years older. Because she could see the girl in her.”
The iconoclastic, Oscar-nominated actress Chloë Sevigny reads the audiobook with a kind of wry weariness, or a weary wryness, mirroring the way its trio of antiheroines tend to talk about one another to one another. The unwavering flatness of her affect matches perfectly the setting’s intellectual milieu — Celine teaches feminist theory at U.C. Berkeley — and the women’s emotional uncertainty, while also augmenting their reluctant in-this-togetherness. Sevigny’s unpretentious performance of these frequently pretentious people is for the most part marvelous.
Occasionally there’s a cost to this flatness; there are a lot of long, expository passages — most of the audiobook’s middle is made up of back story — and while these histories are well-rendered, the stagnancy of the emotional weather at times makes for less than lively listening. Still, even if the tonal register seldom shifts, Sevigny’s low-key narration and Blakley-Cartwright’s wickedly delightful prose ensure that the listener’s sympathies will.
‘Alice Sadie Celine’
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ALICE SADIE CELINE | By Sarah Blakley-Cartwright | Read by Chloë Sevigny | Simon & Schuster Audio | 8 hours, 36 minutes