CEASE TO BLUSH by Billie Livingston (Random House), 480 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Cease to Blush is one big mess. Its protagonist, Vivian, is a pain in the ass, its payoff is too obvious and it exploits true-life events in ways that strain credulity.
Vivian's eyes are on a perpetual roll when she thinks of her lesbian-feminist mother, Josie. She rebels by becoming a B movie extra and then hooking up with a piggy guy who wants to feature her on an Internet porn site.
When Josie dies, her lover, Sally, shows Vivian a trunk full of Josie's memorabilia of her days as Celia Dare, a showgirl/stripper/singing impressionist, which sends a freaked-out Vivian on a road trip to visit Josie's old roommate Annie so she can find out more about her mum's secret past.
Annie shows her letters Josie/Celia wrote in the 60s while hanging out with Rat Packers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, the Kennedys and the Mob. Billie Livingston's conspiracy-ridden narrative suggests that gangsters killed both Kennedy brothers, with Celia acting as a promiscuous Forrest Gump, sleeping with members of all factions.
Vivian's discoveries have a transformative and way too predictable impact on her. And while we get every little detail about those personal changes, we have absolutely no idea how the outrageous stripping singer/impersonator Celia became the radical feminist dyke who so completely alienated her daughter.
There's high energy in the writing, especially during the 60s flashbacks, but these give us cheap, almost pulp-like thrills. People fascinated with the Kennedys will love it, but true lit-lovers will wish there were more sequences like Vivian's icky encounter with a pair of holy rollers in a roadside motel.
When Livingston serves up that kind of stuff, the talent shines through. But there's not enough of it here.