By Julia Blackburn
320 pages. Pantheon.
In her latest book, The Three of Us: A Family Story (Pantheon), Julia Blackburn conjures two of the most narcissistic, drunkenly bombastic characters since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Unfortunately for her, this poisonous pair—the poet Thomas Blackburn and painter Rosalie de Meric—happen to be her parents. Using the copious journals and letters all three of them kept over the years, Blackburn has written a stunning book, part memoir, part portrait of her parents' generation, brought into focus by her mother's final days. Even at their lowest, there's nothing dull about this trio—the fights are vicious, the taking of lovers voracious, the intelligence sharp. When Tom and Rosalie finally divorce in 1961, when Julia is 12, the rivalry between mother and daughter, latent from the start, bursts into full bloom. Every lodger who shares their house becomes a pawn between them, culminating in the formation of endless triangles and sexual liaisons. It's destructive stuff, but in Blackburn's masterly telling, it's also rawly human, bleakly funny, and insightful. As Rosalie spends thelast month of her life living (peacefully at last) with her daughter, other old loves come back into focus and some sort of sense is made of all the crazy years—Blackburn is too smart to offer anything as pat as a happy ending, but she does close this riveting story with an enormous ray of hope.