Rachel Cline

"What to Keep"

(Reviewed by Kam Aures AUG 22, 2004)

"Denny's drama teacher is a hip young man with a big laugh and a reddish goatee. Rufus Wood is profoundly, utterly charming and the immediate ally of every child who enters his classroom. He never condescends, and he is a wellspring of the type of wisdom, knowledge, and perspective that galvanizes most children's respect. He knows how to balance a saltshaker on its edge in a pinch of salt, for example, and has also shown the class how to give breasts to the Land O Lakes squaw by tearing and folding the cardboard box in a certain way.

Many of the girls have painful crushes on Rufus, and his idiotic influence will shadow their early decisions and impulses about sex for years to come. Denny is still largely immune to the demands of her own sexual desires. (She does have them; they just haven't yet cracked the surface. There's nothing that distracts her from her homework or, for that matter, from her idealization of her mother. She doesn't even like horses.)"

What to Keep by Rachel Cline

In Part One, Denny Roman is twelve years old and lives with her mother Lily in Bexley, Ohio. Her parents are divorced neuroscientists and their assistant Maureen handles most of the details of their family life. Maureen plays a huge part in raising Denny as her parents seem to lack both the time and interest in doing so themselves.

The second part of the novel picks up with Denny's life at the age of twenty-six. She is living in Los Angeles attending auditions in hopes that she will land a big role. Her mother and stepfather are moving from Ohio to New York so Denny flies home to pack up her childhood possessions. While there she is more concerned with an upcoming auction than the task at hand and ends up leaving rather quickly, but not without first causing a little bit of trouble.

Fast forward ten more years and we are to the third and final part of the novel. Denny is now thirty-six and living in New York City. She has written a play and it is scheduled to appear as an Off-Broadway production. After rehearsal one day Denny comes home to find Luke, Maureen's thirteen-year-old son on her doorstep looking for his place in the world. Will Denny be able to help him?

What to Keep is an interesting look at a family made up of very different and complex individuals. These individuals each have strong influences on what the future holds for the others whether they realize it at the time or not. As the novel mainly centers around Denny we see how her life is shaped by many different factors. The assistant Maureen plays a huge role in Denny's childhood and parts of Maureen are always with her throughout her life.

While I did enjoy the whole novel I found the first part when Denny is a young girl to be the most entertaining and enjoyable. There are many passages involving her interactions with fellow students and Maureen that are hilarious. In the other two parts of the novel there are places were the story falls flat and drags a little but my opinion overall is that the book is definitely worth reading.

The characters in the novel are all very psychologically unique and I don't think that there are any that I would call average or ordinary. This makes for a humorous and unpredictable novel because in a lot of cases you never know what a character is going to do or say next. Cline's deep and insightful look into the workings of the Roman family is wonderfully crafted and a great debut novel.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 31 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from What to Keep at RandomHouse.com

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About the Author:

Rachel ClineRachel Cline, born in 1957 and raised in Brooklyn Heights. She attended Oberlin, majored in English and later received an MFA while studying to be a screenwriter. She left New York City in 1990 for L.A. where she spent almost a decade in Los Angeles, writing screen plays and teaching at USC.

She now lives in Brooklyn with her two cats.

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