Spotlight “Alice Sadie Celine” by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

by LitStack Editor

A hypnotic, sexy, and incisive debut adult novel following one woman’s affair with her daughter’s best friend that tests the limits of love and ambition.

Alice Sadie Celine and author Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

About Alice Sadie Celine

It’s opening night, but Alice’s performance in the local Bay Area production of The Winter’s Tale is far from glamorous. She doesn’t have dreams of stardom, but the basement theater in a wildfire-choked town isn’t exactly what she envisioned for her career back home in Los Angeles. To make matters worse, her best friend Sadie is not even coming.

Pragmatic, serious Sadie and flighty, creative Alice have been best friends since high school—really one another’s only friends—but now that they are through with college (which they attended together) and living on opposite ends of California, Alice would at least expect her friend’s support. Sadie, determined not to cancel her plans with her boyfriend, ends up enlisting the help of her mother, Celine.

A professor of women’s and gender studies at UC Berkeley, Celine’s landmark treatise on sex and identity made her notorious, but she’s struggling to write her new book in a post-second-wave feminist world. So, when Sadie begs her to attend Alice’s play, she relents, if only to escape writer’s block. But in a turn of perplexing events, Celine becomes entranced by Alice’s performance and realizes that her daughter’s once lanky, slightly annoying best friend is now an irresistible young woman.

Set over the course of decades—from Alice and Sadie’s early friendship days and Celine’s decision to leave her husband to the radical movements of 1990s Berkeley and navigating contemporary Hollywood—Alice and Celine’s affair will test the limits of their love for Sadie and their own beliefs of power, agency, and feminism. Witty and relatable, sexy and surprising, Sarah Blakley-Cartwright’s debut adult novel is a mesmerizing portrait of the inner lives of three very different women.

Editorial Reviews for Alice Sadie Celine

Publishers Weekly

YA author Blakley-Cartwright (Red Riding Hood) makes her adult debut with an elegant study of three women exploring their gender and sexuality. Alice, 23, is an aspiring actor in Los Angeles whose favorite part of performing is “how easy it was to slip into another life.” Celine, 44, is a lesbian public intellectual and UC Berkeley professor famous for her critique of gender essentialism; she’s also the mother of Sadie, Alice’s best friend since high school. 

When Alice returns home to the San Francisco Bay Area to play Hermione in a community theater production of The Winter’s Tale, Sadie can’t attend and asks Celine to go in her stead. Celine, who in middle age has become terrified of conventionality, has an electrifying connection with Alice, and the two end up in bed. A parallel narrative follows Sadie’s plan to finally lose her virginity with her boyfriend, her interest in sex having been complicated by growing up with a radically sex-positive mom. 

Alice and Celine’s age gap is handled adeptly, the descriptions of the affair are titillating yet tender, and though the ruminations on motherhood and daughterhood tend to impede the story’s pacing, they’re packed with spiky insights (“Mothering, thought naïvely, was a task that could be completed, capped off, a checkmark on a to-do list”). This satisfies the head and the heart.

Kirkus Reviews

What happens when a celebrated feminist carries on a highly charged affair with her only daughter’s closest friend?

Despite very different temperaments, Alice and Sadie have been inseparable since adolescence. They remain so in their early 20s, though easygoing Alice is halfheartedly pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles while hardworking Sadie remains in the Bay Area doggedly working her way up in a design firm. Celine is Sadie’s mother, a professor of lesbian-feminist theory at Berkeley who works hard to remain unconventional. 

When Alice gets a part in a play and Sadie can’t attend, she asks Celine to go in her place. A comic romantic nightmare ensues. Forty-four-year-old Celine is gobsmacked by her sudden attraction to Alice, whom she’s never before found particularly interesting, and Alice, who has enjoyed sex with a lot of men, surprises herself by responding to Celine’s attraction in kind. Caught up in their mutual desires and unable to acknowledge that Sadie may see their behavior as betrayal, the lovers tacitly agree not to mention their affair to her, even as weeks pass by. Meanwhile, Sadie is involved in her own sexual crisis: still being a virgin at age 23. 

Thanks to her unorthodox childhood with Celine, she’s developed inhibitions she’s trying to overcome, so far unsuccessfully, with her conveniently adoring, nerdy boyfriend—who, like Alice’s and Sadie’s fathers, remains so palely sketched he barely registers. 

The novel flits among the three women without going deep. Readers learn about Alice’s emotionally chilly mother and sympathize with Sadie’s trials as Celine’s daughter. Ultimately, though, the novel belongs to Celine, a larger-than-life personality full of contradictions. Her boundless love can be smothering, her ideas smart but half-baked, her boundary-breaking playful and cruel. She’s a would-be feminist goddess, monstrous yet hard to dislike.

A lighthearted romp, tinged with melancholy, that gently pokes fun at sexual mores and those who defy them.

Praise for Alice Sadie Celine

Blakley-Cartwright’s stylish and quippy writing offers thoughtful commentary on the women’s many-faceted, much-entangled relationships, and how they’ve shaped, and been shaped by, one another.”—BOOKLIST

“A heartfelt, smart, and keenly observed take on friendship and fulfillment, and what it means to start thinking of parents as actual people.”—TOWN & COUNTRY MAGAZINE

“Obsessed! Each sentence of Alice Sadie Celine is chock full of playful irreverence for feminist and gender theory, hip popular culture references, and the wide breadth of what defines female sexuality.”—Chloë Sevigny

“I am literally obsessed.”—Busy Philipps, actress and New York Times bestselling author of This Will Only Hurt a Little

“The three unforgettable women in this novel remind me of the dancing figures in the Matisse painting, their secrets joyful and mysterious, their dramas delightful and powerful. Delicious and subversive, Alice Sadie Celine is a mesmerizing read.”—Yiyun Li, winner of the PEN Jean Stein Award, PEN Hemingway Award, and author of The Book of Goose and Where Reasons End

“Sarah Blakley-Cartwright subverts all kinds of expectations with this sharply drawn trio of strong-willed women. Vibrant, sensual, and full of irreverent humor, Alice, Sadie, Celine is an outstanding first novel.”—Idra Novey, author of Take What You Need

“Alice Sadie Celine is the story of a forbidden love triangle, of the complexities of female friendship, and of the inextricable bond between mothers and daughters. Taut, tense, sexy, and lucid, Sarah Blakley-Cartwright’s debut adult novel is an unforgettable, irresistible, daring page-turner.”—Hannah Lillith Assadi, author of The Stars Are Not Yet Bells and Sonora

“Like Didion but with more warmth and a queer sensibility, Alice Sadie Celine is packed with so much of what I love in a book: tight prose, smart, fully realized characters grappling with inappropriate love affairs, and bright California land and light. It’s extraordinarily lovely and I savored every word and didn’t want it to end.”—Bethany Ball, Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Finalist and author of The Pessimists

“Here come three indelible women and, with them, one of contemporary fiction’s most delicious love triangles. Sarah Blakley-Cartwright has written a gem of a novel – super smart, slyly sexy, and crackling throughout with kindhearted humor.”—Hermione Hoby, author of Virtue

About Sarah Blakley-Cartwright, Author of Alice Sadie Celine

Alice Sadie Celine author Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

Sarah Blakley-Cartwright is the author of Red Riding Hood, a #1 New York Times bestseller published worldwide in thirty-eight editions and fifteen languages. She is the editor of Hauser & Wirth’s The Artist’s Library for Ursula magazine. She is publishing director of the Chicago Review of Books, and associate editor of A Public Space.

You can find and follow Sarah on her website, on Instagram, and on Facebook.

Titles by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

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