Eberstadt, Fernanda 1960-
EBERSTADT, Fernanda 1960-
PERSONAL: Born November 10, 1960, in New York, NY; daughter of Frederick (a photographer) and Isabel (a writer; maiden name, Nash) Eberstadt; married Alistair Bruton (a political journalist); children: Maud. Education: Magdalen College, Oxford, B.A., 1982, M.A., 1986.
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Agent—Knopf Publishing, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Committee for the Free World.
Low Tide (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
Isaac and His Devils (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
The Furies (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Commentary, Vanity Fair, Interview, Times Literary Supplement, and Washington Times.
SIDELIGHTS: Fernanda Eberstadt writes social and cultural fiction, exposing readers to the idiosyncratic, avaricious, and sometimes charming New York arts scene. She is confident in her work and careful in her observances. As Peter Smith wrote in Harper's Bazaar, she "exudes self-confidence, as well as fearlessness." The daughter of a well-to-do photographer and a writer, Eberstadt had a most privileged, unpredictable, and gregarious upbringing. Her parents were well known around New York City for their wild parties, always surrounding themselves with creative people such as Andy Warhol, Diana Vreeland, and Truman Capote. The young Eberstadt, who is still commonly called by her childhood nickname, "Nenna," was an avid reader and knew she would become a writer by age eleven. With her mother writing down her every word before she could write herself, and her grandfather, poet Ogden Nash, reading to her his own writings and those of others, writing soon became as much a part of Eberstadt's soul as breathing. At the age of sixteen, she worked briefly for Andy Warhol at his Factory writing for Interview magazine, thus formally introducing her to the New York art scene and writing as a career.
Eberstadt started her first novel, Low Tide, while she was a student at Magdalen College, Oxford, and finished the first draft in six weeks. Published in 1985, after five years of revision, Low Tide was hailed for its originality and resplendent imagery. The novel focuses on the jet-setting life of wealthy adolescent Jezebel who lives with her mother in New York. Jezebel is fascinated by Jem, an eccentric young man who is the son of her English father's friend. This bored, privileged couple meets in England and, with Jem's brother, Casimir, "teach Jezebel everything there is to know about living dangerously in the anarchic world of wealthy student misfits," according to reviewer Linda Taylor of the Times Literary Supplement. Jezebel's obsession with Jem leads her to follow him from England to Mexico, where the book reaches its tragic conclusion.
Despite what several reviewers considered to be an insubstantial plot, Low Tide received praise both for Eberstadt's imagery and characterization. Lisa St. Auban de Teran of the New York Times Book Review assessed that Low Tide "remains a portrait, and a successful one, of an individual soul in torment, a young woman who has undeniably pinned her flag to the mast of Mr. Wrong." Eberstadt has been especially admired for her richly adorned prose. Washington Post Book World contributor Edmund Morris noted, "It is Miss Eberstadt's imagery, indeed, that proclaims her a major talent." Yet, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Laura Furman observed, "It is a relief when the narrative relaxes enough to do what the reader wanted it to do all along—just tell the story." Characterization is considered to be another of Eberstadt's talents; according to Morris, her characters "live and breathe lovably." On the whole, reviewers complimented Eberstadt's first literary effort. St. Auban de Teran declared Low Tide "is a book that leaves its mark." Morris hailed Eberstadt as a "novelist of rich promise" and pronounced her work "a slender sapling of a book, but it has enough sap rising to foliate an orchard."
Eberstadt's second novel, Isaac and His Devils, traces a brilliant and eccentric boy's arduous journey into adulthood. The boy, Isaac Hooker, must contend with poor sight and hearing, ill health, gawkiness, woefully incompatible parents, and the narrowness of small-town life. Much to the chagrin of his mother and the adoration of his father, Isaac's genius is fueled by an insatiable and precocious curiosity. Isaac's father, Sam, sees in Isaac the realization of his own dream of becoming a scholar, a goal he abandoned due to the obligations of his growing family and his wife Mattie's disdain for intellectual pursuits. Isaac is on the way to fulfilling his father's expectations as he enters Harvard University at fifteen; hurt by the betrayal of a friend, Isaac drops out of Harvard and goes to live in a cabin with his high-school math teacher, Agnes. His father's sudden death galvanizes Isaac to pull away from his overbearing mother, his anxieties, small-town life, and ultimately defeat the "devils" that hound him.
Again, Eberstadt was praised for her skillful characterizations and command of language. In a Los Angeles Times Book Review article, Frederick Busch declared that the author's language "shimmer[s] on the page . . . Eberstadt has given us a beautiful novel, as tough as New England in winter, alive with braided ideas and passions. The reader feels the characters' thoughts, thinks their emotions, and cheers with both admiration and gratitude: Here is a book for grownups to relish." Wall Street Journal contributor Bruce Bawer also lauded Isaac and His Devils: "Eberstadt has written a novel of real moral seriousness—a book guided by a strong, clear sense of what matters in both life and art."
In her third novel, When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth, Eberstadt returns to the story of the Harvard dropout artist Isaac Hooker and his pursuit of self. Now twenty-five years old, Isaac meets Dolly and Alfred Gebler, codirectors of the Aurora Foundation, an organization which sponsors visual artists. He meets them none too soon as his homelessness is making him the literal definition of a starving artist. Dolly loves art and artists; Alfred loves buying art and schmoozing. Together they envelop Isaac, a painter of realistic religious images, and catapult him into glorious fame and fortune. But fame has its price—a love triangle-cum-quadrangle (including a black woman artist named Gina) results in obsessive control, pain, and heartache. As quoted by Marjorie Kaufman reviewing for the New York Times, Eberstadt suggests that Isaac's epiphany stands as "a cautionary tale to young artists, don't come out of nowhere and burn too bright, learn to last." Eberstadt uses her book to expound her philosophies on the ramifications of supporting an artist while not sacrificing principles in the exchange for notoriety; Kaufman quoted Eberstadt: "If you inflate a living artist's reputation . . . the exposure can destroy the work."
When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth received mixed reviews. Ken Johnson, reviewing for Art in America, claimed Eberstadt's characters lay "flat on the page and refuse to come to life. . . . [Isaac] hardly ever dramatically demonstrates the admirable qualities attributed to him. When he speaks of art, he seems not large-souled but irritable and sanctimonious." However, Michael Harris of the Los Angeles Times asserted that "Eberstadt is at her best simply setting her people in motion and relishing the scene. Her satire is affectionate; her character drawing, generous and nuanced." A Publishers Weekly reviewer suggested that Eberstadt had spread "her palette too thin. She follows too many minor characters, with the result that the novel's texture is deep but its narrative drive is sluggish," yet a writer for Kirkus Reviews found "Eberstadt's portraits of the anxious New York avant garde, of painters and performance artists and would-be street poets, of mercenary dealers and edgy critics, is sharp and refreshingly tough-minded." Focusing on Eberstadt's treatment of Isaac, the Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded, "Eberstadt is particularly deft in catching the way in which art can take over one's life, overriding all other responsibilities. . . . reflective Isaac begins to think his way into what art means to him."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 39, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
American Spectator, April, 1986, p. 42.
Art in America, July, 1997, Ken Johnson, review of When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth, p. 29.
Booklist, April 1, 1985, p. 1098; April 1, 1991, p. 1544; March 1, 1997, p. 1109.
Boston Globe, March 16, 1997, p. N16.
Chicago Tribune, September 8, 1984, p. 37.
Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 1997, p. 62.
Harper's Bazaar, March 1997, Peter Smith, review of Low Tide, pp. 278, 280, 282.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1985, p. 98; February 1, 1991, p. 123; January 15, 1997, review of When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth, p. 78.
Library Journal, March 15, 1985, p. 72; March 15, 1991, p. 114; March 1, 1997, p. 101; July, 2003, Reba Leiding, review of The Furies, pp. 121-122.
Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1997, Michael Harris, review of When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth, p. E3.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 2, 1985, Laura Furman, review of Low Tide, p. 9; May 19, 1991, Frederick Busch, review of Isaac and His Devils, p. 12.
National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 1992, p. 36.
New Yorker, August 26, 1991, p. 79.
New York Times, May 4, 1997, p. LI23.
New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1985, Lisa St. Auban de Teran, review of Low Tide, p. 13; June 30, 1991, p. 20; August 16, 1992, p. 32; March 30, 1997, Marjorie Kaufman, review of When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth, p. 8.
Observer (London, England), October 4, 1992, p. 59.
Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1985, p. 350; February 15, 1991, p. 74; January 20, 1997, review of When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth, pp. 391-392.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 1997, p. D5.
Saturday Review, May-June, 1985, pp. 40-43.
Times Educational Supplement, August 2, 1991, p. 18.
Times Literary Supplement, June 28, 1985, Linda Taylor, review of Low Tide, p. 733; July 5, 1991, p. 20.
Tribune Books, August 16, 1992, p. 2.
Vanity Fair, March 1997, pp. 132-133.
Village Voice, July 2, 1991, p. 71.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1992, p. 21.
Vogue, April, 1985, p. 242; March 1997, p. 318.
Wall Street Journal, July 9, 1991, Bruce Bawer, review of Isaac and His Devils, p. A14; March 10, 1997, p. A16.
Washington Post Book World, May 12, 1985, Edmund Morris, review of Low Tide, pp. 9, 12.*