The Daughters

Written by Adrienne Celt
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

In her debut novel, Adrienne Celt composes an operatic story that follows a mysterious curse running through the family of renowned singer, Lulu, from mother to daughter for four generations since Greta, the originator of the bad luck, first fell in love. After giving birth to sons, Greta longs for a daughter and, seduced by a sinister, mysterious man in gray, finally gets her precious girl, Ada. Ada is a storyteller, mixing magical elements with solemn facts as she regales young Lulu with tales from their homeland, Poland. Ada also takes over the care and tending of Lulu because Lulu’s mother, Sara, is a jazz singer/alcoholic who relinquishes her responsibility to her daughter easily. Sara remains a glamorous stranger to Lulu, someone who cannot be trusted.

Lulu and her husband, John, are both successful performers, with Lulu’s career outshining John’s. He doesn’t seem to mind. Lulu gives birth to Kate and, oddly, she cannot sing a note. The birth was difficult and Lulu believes the family curse has come to haunt her. The women in the family sing their daughters to life, so her “baba Ada” has told her. But Lulu can’t squeak out even a note for Kate. As the story develops, the reader learns baba Ada isn’t exactly a reliable narrator; her stories mask as well as reveal truth.

The writing is lush and visceral. However, some of the descriptions and metaphors are over-the-top and a bit too carefully wrought. The reader can feel the writer thinking about language, haggling over the perfect phrase. This is a small point because most of the book is quite fine.