In her somber first novel, Oakland author and essayist Meredith Maran hits every possible stereotype on the subjects of feminism, liberalism, and lesbianism. Alison is a friendless Oberlin student in 1983 when she falls for the attentive and charismatic Zoe, who steers her to Berkeley after graduation. There they create a life together that spans two decades and has them reacting to the major political events of the West Coast exactly as lefty lesbians should: protesting against nuclear testing, advocating for AIDS victims. But the couple’s applecart is upset when Zoe decides it’s time to get Alison inseminated and begin their family. The problem is that Alison isn’t as excited about the project and even ends up sleeping with Mark, her editor at Mother Jones (of course), just days after an insemination. She gets pregnant, but who is the father: Mark or the sperm donor? Unfortunately, Maran falls down on the job even harder right when her story gets the most complicated. She explains in wearying detail both Zoe’s and Alison’s motivations, leaving aside entirely the issue of Mark’s role in the matter. Worse, she never even answers the $60,000 question, so the novel ends with a cliff-hanger, depriving readers of any meaningful payoff for their slog through all those years of herstory. C
In celebration of A Theory of Small Earthquakes, Meredith Maran talks about writing with friend and fellow author Michelle Richmond at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 15 at the Booksmith. 1644 Haight St., 415-863-8688. Read more here.