Cease to Blush by Billie Livingston
Reasons for reading: saw a good review for it somewhere; New-To-Me Authors list for Triple 8 Challenge
From the publisher: "Vivian is late to her own mother’s funeral. Wearing a skintight lipstick-red suit, Vivian stands out like a pornographer’s dream amongst the raven collection of West Coast intellectuals mourning the untimely death of the famous feminist Josie Callwood ... When she opens a trunk in her mother’s basement, Vivian discovers that Josie wasn’t who she seemed – and that she had a flaming sexual past more exotic than anything Vivian has been able to pull off. Chasing the lies her mother told her, Vivian sets off on a road trip in which memory, reality and imagination collide to recreate the kaleidoscope world of America in the sixties. In disbelief and dawning admiration, she follows her mother’s trail through the Vegas nexus where movie stars, pop singers, strippers, politicians and the mob mingled, where the Rat Pack ruled and girls were arm and eye candy. As she uncovers her mother’s true story, Vivian ends up confronting her own sexual lies and spiritual evasions. Billie Livingston’s fine novel leads us to consider the nature of our hidden desires – and to question whether the sky would really fall if we admitted our true needs and ceased to blush."
First line: "As we pulled up to the curb I could see them a little ways off, gathered around the grave like long black shadows."
My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. Don't be put off by the ugly, typically Canadian cover (there's a nicer green one with showgirl's legs). I feel bad to admit it, but this high praise went through my mind at one point - "This is so interesting - it doesn't seem like a Canadian book!" I know, I'm a terrible Canadian, but I find most CanLit so dreary. In my book club it's gotten to be a cliche - pretty much every Canadian book we read either has at least one rape (if not several) or at least a dog getting killed. It's like it's not acceptable for Canadians to write a non-depressing book, one that isn't bleak or all about the vast, inhospitable landscape.
Cease to Blush wasn't shiny-happy, but it had a fascinating amount of detail about the Rat Pack, the Kennedys, and the 60's. I've always been intrigued by the 60's (and the Rat Pack) and this book made me want to learn much more. Vivian slowly uncovers the truth about her mother by finding people who knew her, in particular her former roommate, stripper Annie West, who has a bunch of letters that Josie (who went by Celia Dare) wrote her in the 60's. Vivian fills in the blanks in her imagination, writing out detailed versions of what she thinks happened. These revelations are interspersed with snippets of 60's history (sometimes just paragraphs of key words), which Vivian voraciously researches at the same time.
Vivian's life, which wasn't all that together while her mom was alive, goes completely off the rails with Josie's death (and with the help of Vivian's would-be Internet porn mogul boyfriend, Frank). Vivian has to learn the truth about her mother in order to come back to her true self. I actually found the title a bit ironic - to me it seems that Vivian comes back to herself once she does learn to blush a bit, or at least to accept that she doesn't have to be the ultimate f***able woman that her boyfriend and casting agents say she should be.
A very interesting and entertaining book.