"In this mesmerizing novel, Susanna Moore displays a naturalist's eye for the landscape of her native Hawaii and an uncanny sensitivity to the despairing love between mothers and daughters. Lily Shields grows up amid the fragrance of night-jasmine and burning sugar cane, and the heady atmosphere of her mother's madness. For if Anna Shields is an island unto herself--fragile, glamorous, and fearfully needy--Lily is the bridge that connects her to reality. But now Lily is a young woman and a mother herself, self-exiled from Hawaii but still attached to Anna's tragedy. And as she tries to untangle those threads of love and loyalty, Moore gives us a novel of shimmering beauty and sadness. My Old Sweetheart is a small classic, perfectly formed and mysteriously wise.
Shimmering with a siren resonance, this sleek, arresting first novel - set in the lush, pristine landscape of 1950s Hawaii - explores the fantastic depths of a woman's obsession with her lost, all-too-vividly remembered mother. As a child, Lily adores mother Anna - as does everyone else in the Big House in Hawaii: young siblings Jack and Jessie; Tosi, Lily's Japanese "twin" of mysterious origins (born of a dead mother in Hiroshima, rescued by Lily's doctor-father Sheridan); the servants. But everyone also knows that Anna, a Catholic ex-nurse from a Philadelphia tenement, is "a woman in enormous trouble" - who takes pills, tells lies, and centers her life in a fierce passion for husband Sheridan, a cool aesthete "not overly concerned with the rightness or wrongness of what people did." And since Sheridan prefers the unstudied, ingenuous attractions of native-girl Christmas, the children - especially Lily, Anna's "Old Sweetheart" - are bewildered, fearful witnesses to Anna's cycles: her sensuous extravagance (a ball cape made of hundreds of white gardenias); her wicked hilarity (a Halloween heist of a stolid neighbor's silver); and her zig-zag, darting flights toward extinction - via drugs (Lily learns to use the syringe), a mental hospital, and eventual suicide. But Anna's death does not mean the end of Anna for Lily: she keeps searching for her. First, on the verge of adolescence, Lily - sensing Anna-like doom at the magic door of femaleness-feels herself, in fantasy, expanding like Alice to a great terrifying height, tinkling the ballroom chandeliers. And much later, still obsessed, Lily will learn to free herself and her own daughter from possession: with Tosi, she goes on a nightmare-search for father Sheridan in Cambodia, is able to forgive him . . . and can then turn to a true, vital, un-phantomed love. With luxurious imagery and prose that sparkles and snaps like sea grass: one of the year's most alluring, impressive fiction debuts. (Kirkus Reviews)