'Flower Poet' disappoints

BY MELISSA RUNSTROM
Daily Arts Writer
Published June 6, 2004

In her debut novel, “Apprentice to the Flower Poet
Z.,” Debra Weinstein promises a story of blind ambition,
lust, competition and decadence. But the author falls short,
skimping on the characterization of the book’s quirky
academics.

Book Reviews

The story opens as the protagonist, an aspiring poet named
Annabelle, realizes her dream of working with the famous poet Z.
But Annabelle’s tyrannical idol has a weak grasp of ethics,
and Annabelle is destined for disappointment –– or even
worse.

Weinstein constructs an intriguing framwork for
Annabelle’s coming-of-age: A fresh transfer from a Long
Island community college, she’s a naïve junior at New
York University on a poetry scholarship. Z. is adulterous,
demanding, dictatorial and petty. As an assistant to Z., Annabelle
expects to learn from a top literary mind; instead, she finds the
faculty’s daily interactions have little to do with poetry or
literature and is relegated to running errands and doing research
for her mentor. After this initial letdown, Annabelle looks for
guidance elsewhere — from another NYU instructor who just
happens to be Z.’s archenemy. The scene is set for
Annabelle’s jarring fall from academic and emotional
naïveté.

But “Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z.” fails as a
fully developed work. Weinstein describes circumstances and events
well, but does not develop many characters, including her
protagonist, sufficiently. Even though Annabelle narrates the story
with a strong voice, she remains someone the reader never really
knows, and the reader is rarely shown her motivations. Weinstein
slights her supporting characters, like Annabelle’s James
Joyce-obsessed boyfriend, with only minimal characterization. Even
Z., whom Weinsten develops more fully, doesn’t get the
treatment she deserves: The interesting parts of her life —
incest, adultery and other family secrets –– are merely
touched upon, hanging limp without adding intrigue to the plot.

To Weinstein’s credit, she has created an easy-to-read
first novel. But at the end of her tale, the reader is
disappointed: She doesn’t establish an emotional connection
between readers and characters. The book is a commentary on the
dog-eat-dog world of literary academia when it could have been a
rich exploration of literary versus emotional life.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.