America the Beautiful
by Moon Unit Zappa
A review by Georgie Honisett
Is it so terribly hard for women to love themselves without the reassurance of
a man's love? In my experience it seems that way, or at least to do so requires
work. One of the most heartening aspects of Moon Unit Zappa's delightful
semi-autobiographic novel America the Beautiful is that in her quest to
recover from a broken heart she discovers a kind of self-love. When "the best boyfriend in the world," Jasper Hursh, dumps her by fax, protagonist America Throne descends into the depths of misery, buying forty dollars worth of chocolate at
the local 7-Eleven and wailing continually "like it was a business day and this
was my job." Anyone who has suffered a broken heart can empathize with
the neediness that emerges when you sense your partner becoming distant, or the bewildered and plaintive cry: "But what did I do???"
As she attempts to navigate the world of dating again, America consults a rather
dubious shrink, but with a wry pragmatism takes what she can from it and leaves
the platitudes to him. "You just have some old tapes you need to unlearn." Dr.
Karl advises. "He sounded like one now," she observes. Like Carrie Fisher,
whose Postcards from the Edge captured the circus-like lifestyle of LA
celebrities and semi-celebrities, Zappa sends her heroine off to find a
foothold and soul in a city known for its fissures and superficiality. And
like Fisher, does so with a similarly self-deprecating, quick-witted humor. The
(I think unjustly) easily-dismissed Bridget Jones's Diary struck a chord with
women around the western world, exploring similar themes of female insecurity
and their search for connection with men.
But where Bridget just needed to find the "right man," Zappa acknowledges that an inner connection with yourself and
your creativity are foremost concerns before trying to negotiate the confusing
world of modern day relationships. In her attempts to do this she develops "a little crush" on herself, gradually allowing her times alone to not be lonely. She also allows her artistic impulses to emerge from beneath the shadow of her "art genius" father. By grieving her relationship with
Jasper, America simultaneously grieves the death and past hurts of an
emotionally, and often geographically, absent father. Though it's no feminist
manifesto, no great work of art (although America is sympathetic and three
dimensional, other characters are not fully fleshed out) I found America
the Beautiful beautifully honest and seriously funny.