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4.0 out of 5 stars

HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 January 2006
Who knew that poetry was such a cutthroat business? Debra Weinstein's debut novel is a brilliant, multilayered look at the world of poetry and the people who populate it. Funny and yet strangely lyrical, "Apprentice To The Flower Poet Z" is a lovely read.
Student and wannabe-poet Annabelle Goldsmith stumbles into a dream job when she becomes the "apprentice" (read: assistant with a more glamorous title) to Z., a famed poet who writes poetry about flowers. Among Annabelle's duties is buying ink, trespassing for flower desciptions, and buying a boyfriend's underwear for the charming, enigmatic Z. Vaguely she knows that all this is awful, but she submits meekly anyway.
Annnabelle also takes up with an older student, Harry, who enmeshes her in some weird erotic situations to serve as his muse. Then Annabelle meets Z's husband and sullen daughter Claire, both of whom hide more unflattering secrets about this glamorous poet. But Annabelle discovers the most shocking fact about Z yet -- and it's tied to Annabelle's own budding poetry.
"I want the world to think poetry, the way it thinks television..." So says Spence, Z's sexy boyfriend. That may be a bit much to ask, but Weinstein certainly makes the world of modern poetry -- either beautiful or ruthless -- closer to readers in this book. While there are a few subplots that seem to peter out (like the story of Harry's mentor, or Annabelle's shrink sessions), the main plot is the mesmerizing one.
Weinstein herself is a poet, and it shows. She has a sort of spare poetry to her prose writing, a bit like a prose haiku -- minimal details, but still evocative. And the poetry she sprinkles liberally through "Apprentice" is simply beautiful, always very polished and striking. She also strikes deep into the heart of an aspiring poet's world -- the workshops, the intellectual snobbery (usually revolving around Annabelle's love of Dickinson), the guidelines that others can set for poetry.
Z is the most fascinating character of the book. We can tell that below the cool, smart artist exterior that there's something a lot less pleasant, but Weinstein unwinds the "flower poet" so that we only get hints to add up. Annabelle can be a bit of a doormat, but she's a nice lead character with all the artistic idealism of a person just setting out in her wished-for job.
From Emily Dickinson to empty flower poems, "Apprentice To The Flower Poet Z" is a beautifully-written, wickedly witty debut novel. Highly recommended.
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