Cease to Blush

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Billie Livingston’s fine second novel leads us to consider the nature of our hidden lives and desires — and to question whether the sky would really fall if we admitted our true needs and ceased to blush.

As Cease to Blush opens, Vivian is late to her own mother’s funeral. Wearing a tight red suit, Vivian stands out like a pornographer’s dream amongst the West Coast intellectuals mourning the death of prominent feminist Josie Callwood. But for all of her bravado, Vivian finds herself emotionally numb and spiraling downward. Vivian and her mother were in constant conflict, with Josie disapproving of her daughter’s lifestyle; her inclination to use her body instead of her brain, and her so-called acting career, which has amounted to little more than playing prostitutes and the odd dead body. For her part Vivian has been invested in antagonizing her mother’s feminist ideology. As the story opens Vivian’s career, as well as her relationship with boyfriend Frank, is taking an unsavoury turn as she wades into the quick cash scheme of Internet porn with herself cast in the lead.

But Josie has left a big surprise for her troubled daughter: a trunk full of mementoes from her own past, all of which point to a secret life more exotic than anything Vivian has been able to pull off. Puzzling together bits and pieces, Vivian learns that her mother was at one time a burlesque performer named Celia Dare who rubbed shoulders with the flashiest celebrities of the sixties. Vivian becomes determined to uncover the true story of her mother’s life.

Chasing rumours, Vivian sets off down the Pacific coast and soon finds out that truth is a slippery snake. With only a few of her mother’s letters, some guarded anecdotes from Josie’s former confidant and a slew of books about the sixties, Vivian begins to re-create her mother’s life, placing her at the heart of some of the biggest events and scenes of the era. From the protests and beat coffeehouses of Haight-Ashbury to the frenzied nightlife of Rat Pack Vegas, from the political soirées of New York to mob meetings in glitzy Miami hotels, Celia Dare saw and did it all. Yet the glamour hid an ugly underbelly, and as Vivian peels away the layers of the past she begins to uncover her own emotional truths as well.

Cease to Blush drives the bumpy road from the burlesque stages of Rat Pack Vegas to the bedroom Internet porn business, exploring just how far women have really come. In Vivian, Livingston has created the perfect character through which to explore what it means to be an independent woman today; with Celia/Josie, it’s clear that things weren’t so cut and dry in her day either. Though Celia’s story is told vividly here, its accuracy is impossible to gauge and the ghosts are not talking. But maybe this is Celia’s gift to Vivian: the ability of the past not only to illuminate the future, but to re-imagine it.

From the Hardcover edition.


As we pulled up to the curb I could see them a little ways off, gathered around the grave like long black shadows. The sky was the blue of a cheap ­paint-­by-­number. Leonard tugged his door handle to get out. Sitting in the passenger side, I squinted behind sunglasses and sipped my vodka tonic from a travel...
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1. Why did Sally give the trunk to Vivian after Josie’s death?

2. The novel opens with Vivian’s story, but then Livingston weaves in the story of Celia’s life (as written by Vivian). How does the one inform the other? Which narrative did you find more compelling?

3. Other than Vivian’...

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“Provocative and wildly fun. Cease to Blush is proof that issue fiction is still being written, and very well too. A great read. You won’t be able to put it down.”
The Globe and Mail

Cease to Blush is a well-crafted, thought-provoking novel about where women’s beauty and vanity can take them and how a person’s exterior can hide an unknown story.”
The Vancouver Sun

"Brazen, fast and wickedly smart, Billie Livingston knocks every gender stereotype you've ever held dear on its ass. Suspenseful and knowing, this novel unveils all the painful bits, the hard knocks and sacrifices between mothers and daughters - how we make each other strong."
–Lisa Moore, author of Alligator

Praise for Going Down Swinging:

“Poignant. . .her flailing, failing, eternally optimistic characters are so wonderful that it’s a joy to stick with them even as they tread water, hardly going anywhere. . . Livingston succeeds gorgeously in capturing the messiness and unresolvable ambiguities of familial love.”
National Post

“Livingston kicks the novel up to another level, mastering multiple points of view, deftly switching narrative voices in alternating chapters. . . Her insight into the emotional life of a mother, and her exploration of the love and understanding a child feels for even the most under-qualified parent, reveals a formidable grasp of the mysteries of the human heart.”
The Vancouver Sun

“Livingston is a compelling new voice – one that should be welcomed and watched.”
The Globe and Mail

“Billie Livingston vividly captures the heady romance of mother-daughter love, so strengthening in its unconditional acceptance and support, and so wretchedly debilitating in its blindness.”
The Hamilton Spectator