Cover image for The bride of catastrophe
The bride of catastrophe
Schmidt, Heidi Jon.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador, [2003]

Physical Description:
422 pages ; 22 cm
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
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The much anticipated and darkly comic first novel from a prize-winning storyteller

"I grew up on a farm." The year is l974, the place Sweetwater College, and Beatrice Wolfe is telling the story of her life to the glamorous young professor Philippa Sayres. So begins the achingly funny, often heartbreaking story of Beatrice's double quest to find out who she might be, and to escape the gothic eccentricity of her family.

Married in a misbegotten passion, her parents are totally unsuited to any kind of business. The four Wolfe children's lives are ruled by their mother whose larger-than-life demands and fears encircle them in a darkly comic web of contradictions. When their father's ping pong business collapses and he loses their "farm," Bea's family spirals out of control.
Bea, under Philippa's romantic spell, joins a lesbian community and is so committed to her new gay identity that she barely notices she's falling in love with a man--a man just risen from the ashes of addiction, whose re-creation of himself she threatens to undo.

In The Bride of Catastrophe , Heidi Jon Schmidt explores the magnetic effect of love in all its variations--its power to form and sometimes deform us, to make us who we are.

Author Notes

Heidi Jon Schmidt lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she teaches at the Provincetown Arts center.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Following her acclaimed story collection Darling? (2001) comes Schmidt's first novel set in the 1970s about an impassioned bisexual whose headlong pursuit of experience has made her a bride of catastrophe. Beatrice Wolfe confides her life story to her Camille Paglia-like literature professor, Philippa Sayres, because she loves the way Philippa has turned her rural childhood--in which she ate badly cooked organic food and wore eccentric, homemade clothing--into something out of Greek mythology. In truth, Beatrice is still recovering from her parents' stormy marriage, borne on a tide of disappointment and recrimination. After a brief but passionate fling with Philippa, Beatrice enters a more placid if suffocating relationship with a neurotic insurance adjustor, takes a string of menial jobs, and meets her soul mate in the tattooed former heroin addict Stetson Tortola. Although Schmidt's novel is neither as polished nor as focused as her bitingly satiric short stories, it offers a number of pleasures, including Beatrice's entertainingly florid mother and the exuberant attitude toward experimentation that was the hallmark of the 1970s. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Slipping from the clutches of her reclusive, eccentric family, Beatrice Wolfe makes her way to elite Sweetriver College and then on to bleak late 1970s Hartford. The bright but overwrought and self-important heroine of Schmidt's erratic debut novel is seeking a new identity, but she is hampered in her search by her dysfunctional family, whom she has puffed up to near mythical proportions in her mind. This is particularly true of her mother, Claire, an unhappy woman who has given her "raindropsized world... such complex drama that it became a virtual sea." Somewhat inaccurately describing her parents as "victims of love," Beatrice determines to become an expert in love, embarking on a dogged relationship hunt. Her misguided quest leads her into a deadening relationship with a woman, an apparent polar opposite of Claire. Beatrice's foibles, rendered in the first person, are handled with a combination of sarcasm and tenderness by Schmidt, who captures very well the intense, painful melodramas of youth and the often "foggy tide basin of female feeling." The author of two short story collections (Darling?; The Rose Thieves), Schmidt has a keen eye for detail and a sharp sense of humor. "I did not ask myself whether a love excited by spite was really the kind of love I was looking for," Beatrice tells the reader. "I was in no position for such a proud question." But, like Beatrice herself, Schmidt is prone to melodrama, overwriting already emotional scenes and throwing around literary allusions to everyone from Euripides to John Updike in an effort to broaden and deepen her story's import. The result is a first novel that careens from highstrung editorializing to astute observation, never quite managing to build a complete, believable world for its maddening yet arresting characters. 8-city author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Schmidt's first novel will comfortably share the shelf with works such as John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire and Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast. All are comic novels about closely knit families tragically run amok owing to the excesses and neglect of one or both parents. In Schmidt's novel, Beatrice, the oldest of four living children, tries to break away from the extreme neediness and conflicting expectations of her parents while simultaneously attempting to please and reassure them. Beatrice's attempts to disengage lead her into a string of dysfunctional relationships, none particularly serving her own intense needs. In the end, as Beatrice's siblings pile up as casualties, Beatrice herself appears to have an epiphany that makes her future path clear. But she has really progressed nowhere and is still devising a means to fulfill the dreams of her parents. Those who carry the baggage of childhood or continue to strive to please their parents on into adulthood will want to read this book. Recommended for all public libraries and for academic libraries with contemporary literature collections.-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.